Fab Four to spearhead S'pore's Asian Games hopes
HONG KONG 0
Try as he did, Singapore striker Sahil Suhaimi just could not wriggle his way past a resolute Hong Kong defence and grab another international goal.
Right back Al-Qaasimy Rahman did have the ball in the net in the 64th minute when he buried Hariss Harun's through-ball, but referee Amirul Izwan disallowed the quick free-kick and demanded a re-take.
Still, there were plenty of positives for the Singapore team to take from the goalless draw last night before most of them leave tomorrow for the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The spine of the team gave a good account of themselves in front of 1,948 fans at Hougang Stadium and their Asiad hopes will very much depend on this quartet.
To be fair, Hassan didn't have much to do, facing just one weak shot by Chan Siu Ki in the first half and another from a tight angle by Christian Annan in the second half.
However, the 30-year-old Warriors FC goalkeeper was nearly caught out on the hour mark when Kwok Kin Pong headed Lo Kwan Yee's pinpoint cross onto the perpendicular.
But, by and large, he was a reassuring presence, claiming crosses with authority and coming off his line quickly to foil Hong Kong's counter-attack attempts.
Hassan will need to have three big games if Singapore are to stand a good chance of making it past Tajikistan, Oman and Palestine in Incheon.
Hong Kong coach Kim Pang On gave Singapore credit for their fighting spirit and physical play despite being generally smaller in stature.
He singled out 1.90-metre tall centre back Baihakki for praise as the 30-year-old was a towering presence alongside Safuwan Baharudin, gobbling up most of the hopeful punts and was also a threat up front in set-pieces.
If Baihakki can maintain his form and focus, his big-match experience will also be a big plus for Singapore's Asian Games squad.
Coming on for Shahfiq Ghani in the second half, the 20-year-old bolstered Singapore's midfield with a much-needed urgency.
With the squad yet to be finalised before they leave tomorrow - it is still unconfirmed whether over-aged central midfielder Hariss Harun would be released by his club (see sidebar) - the selectors should be relieved they can count on Anumanthan.
National assistant coach Aide Iskandar said: "He helped us get a grip in midfield and provided good aggression when Hong Kong were threatening to out-muscle us."
Undoubtedly Singapore's biggest goal threat, there were glimpses of Sahil's ability when he went on a few direct runs at defenders and took a few shots from outside the box.
But the 22-year-old lacked quality support and was left to fend for himself all too often, as combination play among him, Shahfiq, Shahdan Sulaiman, Faris Ramli and Fazrul Nawaz were few and far between.
He could still make a name for himself at the Asian Games, but Aide said: "It is very important to show clinical finishing. Quality teams won't give us more chances than we had today."
- Shots: Singapore 3 on target, 7 off target; Hong Kong 2 on target, 3 off target
- Corners: Singapore 3, Hong Kong 3
- Yellow cards: Singapore 3 (Afiq Yunos, Shahfiq Ghani, Al-Qaasimy Rahman), Hong Kong 4
- Offsides: Singapore 2, Hong Kong 4
- Attendance: 1,948
- Match rating: 6/10
- Referee: Amirul Izwan (Malaysia)
- TNP Man of the Match: Hariss Harun
LINE-UPS & RATINGS
- SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny 6.5, Al-Qaasimy Rahman 6.5, Baihakki Khaizan 7, Safuwan Baharudin 7, Afiq Yunos 6, Faris Ramli 6.5 (Suria Prakash 87), Hariss Harun 7, Shahdan Sulaiman 7, Fazrul Nawaz 6.5 (Shameer Aziq 66), Shahfiq Ghani 6 (M Anumanthan 46), Sahil Suhaimi 6.5
- HONG KONG: Yapp Hung Fai, Lee Chi Ho (Jack Sealy 46), Chan Wai Ho, Fofo Agbo, Cheung Kin Fung (Kwok Kin Pong 46), Christian Annan, Bai He, Lo Kwan Yee (Huang Yang 63), Ju Yingzhi (Leung Chun Pong 46), Lam Ka Wai (Chan Man Fai 63), Chan Siu Ki (Lee Wai Lim 66)
Korea, here we come; but what's the line-up?
The Singapore football squad for this month's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, leave tomorrow.
But the final 20-man squad for the Under-23 tournament has yet to be decided by the Football Association of Singapore.
"What to do?" was the resigned answer Aide Iskandar gave when asked about the troubles the team have faced in their attempts to get their desired players for the Under-23 tournament.
Central to the mess is Malaysian side Johor Darul Ta'zim's (JDT) reluctance to release midfield lynchpin Hariss Harun as Singapore's third permitted overaged player for the Asiad, as they want him for the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals.
Even though JDT play their final-eight clash against Terengganu only on Oct 4 and the Asian Games football tournament ends on Oct 2, Southern Tigers coach Bojan Hodak told TNP last week that Hariss is a key man in his team and does not want to risk any injuries to his star.
As if that doesn't present enough of a headache to Asian Games coach Bernd Stange and his assistant Aide, their choice of back-up for Hariss, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman, is also needed by Tampines Rovers as they negotiate a two-legged Singapore Cup semi-final on Sept 22 and 25.
As the Asian Games is not a Fifa tournament, it is not compulsory for clubs to release players.
Warriors FC goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and LionsXII defender Baihakki Khaizan will take up two of Singapore's three overaged-player slots in Incheon.
Both Hariss and Shahdan played the full 90 minutes of the senior national team's goalless draw with Hong Kong at the Hougang Stadium last night.
Post-game, Aide, who stood in for an ill Stange, told The New Paper: "Of course, we want to play our best team.
"But, if we can't get our choice of player, we'll have to turn to our second-best..."
When TNP pointed out that in this case, it would be third-best, he smiled wryly and said: "What to do? We just have to make do.
"We might take Afiq (Yunos) or maybe even Khairul Amri, if he recovers in time."
Earlier, when facing the press, the former national skipper said that he was still "hopeful" JDT would release Hariss.
It looks increasingly likely that LionsXII defender Afiq, who turns 24 in December, will be selected to fill the final overage slot.
Striker Amri, who also plays for the LionsXII, is currently recovering from a cheekbone fracture he sustained in a Malaysia Cup clash against Felda United on Aug 13.
Afiq, a left-footed central defender, filled in at left back against Hong Kong, and could reprise the role in Incheon as the team's first-choice in the position, Shakir Hamzah, is currently struggling with a hamstring injury.
Afiq eventually grew into the role after looking shaky at the beginning.
If he travels to the Asiad, Stange and Aide can also choose to play him in his preferred central role and move the versatile centre back Safuwan Baharudin into midfield.
Singapore kick off their campaign against Tajikistan this Sunday, followed by games against Oman next Wednesday and Palestine next Sunday.
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ