Stange doesn't blame Bai, Safuwan for the two goals conceded
(Khairul Amri 20)
(Mongkol Thosakrai 9, Charyl Chappuis 89)
They are widely regarded as the best defensive duo in South-east Asia, but it was a day of agony for Singapore centre backs Baihakki Khaizan and Safuwan Baharudin as the Lions succumbed to a 2-1 defeat by Thailand in their Suzuki Cup Group B opener at the National Stadium last night.
Johor Darul Ta'zim II defender Baihakki was caught out by a throw-in in the ninth minute, allowing Prakit Deeprom to cross from the left for Mongkol Thosakrai to steal in behind Shaiful Esah to thump in the opener.
The 30-year-old was lucky to stay on the pitch after first being booked for a tactical foul on Charyl Chappuis after being outpaced in a 16th-minute Thai counter-attack, and then taking down Kroekrit Thaweekarn in the 45th minute.
National football coach Bernd Stange then replaced Baihakki with Zulfahmi Arifin for the second half, redeploying midfielder Hariss Harun as a centre back instead.
LionsXII's Safuwan, who was solid for most of the match, then conceded an 89th-minute penalty after Charyl's cross struck his arm in the box; the Thai midfielder then converted the spot-kick for the winner.
But Safuwan disagrees that there are cracks in his partnership with Baihakki, and said: "There wasn't any problems. If we were to have problems, Thailand might have scored two or three goals in the first half."
Stange will also keep faith in Baihakki and Safuwan for what he calls two must-win matches against Myanmar on Wednesday and Malaysia on Saturday.
The 66-year-old German said: "We started by giving away a Christmas present nine minutes in, even though it's four weeks before Christmas... it was a lack of understanding but, after that, Thailand did not have many chances.
"We didn't want to finish the match with 10 players against strong opponents, and have Baihakki suspended for the next game. It's understandable.
"It's unfortunate Safuwan slipped and conceded a penalty just minutes before the end."
The defenders, with 153 caps between them, are determined to pick themselves up and come back with a stronger showing in the remaining two Group B matches.
Baihakki said: "We must remain positive. After losing the first match, there is definitely pressure but, sometimes, it's good to feel the pressure.
"Coach Bernd explained that the assistant referee told him I was another tackle away from getting a red card and I understand why I was substituted.
"But I was just doing my job. Tackles are there to be made, and we will be back stronger."
Both players felt the penalty decision was a soft one, and that they should have killed off the match earlier.
"It was harsh because I was backpedalling and I fell," said the 23-year-old Safuwan.
"When you fall, your hands will be up to protect yourself from falling down. But, when the referee thinks differently, you can't argue back. It's not like when you get caught for handball with your hands up high.
"I don't feel sad, because at the end of the day, I gave my best. Anyone could be the one in my position. Everyone knows he has a part to play and there is no pointing fingers at anyone.
"We know that we did our best. Goals like this (the winner) are unfortunate, but the mood is still high. We know we can still get something out of the next two games. At the back of our minds, we know that we beat Malaysia and Myanmar."