Singapore force draw with Oman to retain hopes
(Hatem Hamhami 11, Rashadi Shakili 25, Saud Farsi 29)
(Sahil Suhaimi 12, Faris Ramli 43, Safuwan Baharudin 85)
Afiq Yunos appeared in the tunnel at the Hwaseong Stadium wearing a broad grin and positively bouncing.
On the back of the 23-year-old defender was Faris Ramli with his fists raised to the ceiling, whooping at the waiting Singapore media.
Muffled shouts were heard from the players' dressing room, and understandably so, after the Singapore Under-23s came from behind twice to draw 3-3 with Oman in Group C of the Asian Games football tournament yesterday.
The result kept alive their hopes of finishing in the top two to make the Round of 16.
Coach Aide Iskandar, though, walked into the media room looking much older than his 39 years.
"It's not easy being a coach, there are loads of expectations," he said, breaking into a grin when asked about the pale look of fatigue he wore.
"But this is one of my proudest moments (as a coach)... to come from behind against a team like Oman - (whose senior team are) ranked 67th in the world, the boys deserve credit for what they've delivered."
After falling 1-0 to Tajikistan in Sunday's opening fixture, few believed that Singapore had any hope against an Oman side that were technically sound and tactically superior.
The worst was feared when Hatem Hamhami expertly arrowed in a shot to fire Oman into the lead after just 11 minutes, but Sahil Suhaimi equalised less than 60 seconds later, after the Middle Eastern side's defenders failed to deal with a Baihakki Khaizan long pass.
A frenetic first half saw two more Omani goals, from Rashadi Shakili (25th) and Saud Farsi (29th).
Then came a moment of magic from Faris.
Just before half-time, the diminutive winger beat two defenders and unleased a right-footed curler that nestled into the far corner of Mazin Kasbi's goal to reduce the deficit.
And a battling second-half performance by the Singapore side was rewarded with another late goal, as Safuwan Baharudin rose high at the back post to power home a header off Sahil's outswinging free-kick in the 85th minute.
Palestine assured themselves of qualification after beating Tajikistan yesterday for their second win on the trot.
The Tajiks are on three points, with both Singapore and Oman on one a piece and all three can still finish second after the final round of matches on Sunday.
"We kept going till the very last minute, and looking at the attitude and fighting spirit of the boys, I really couldn't ask for more," said 30-year-old defender Baihakki, who along with goalkeeper Hassan Sunny and fellow defender Afiq Yunos, are the three overaged players allowed in the team according to tournament rules.
Hassan may have been at fault for the second goal when he was slow off the line, but he more than made up for it with a string of superb saves to keep his side in the game.
A distraught Oman coach Hamed Azani was pleased with his side's attacking performance, but annoyed at what he called individual defensive faults that led to Singapore's goals.
But he was impressed with the heart of Aide's charges.
"They have good spirit, (to be able to) come back two times," said Azani, who dragged his feet out of the press conference room, mulling over what is now a must win match against Tajikistan on Sunday.
Singapore face Palestine on the same day at the Ansan Wa Stadium, but Aide is buoyed.
"I told the boys at half-time that we must play the best second half of our lives to stay in the competition - and they never gave up," he said.
- SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny, Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman (Suria Prakash 86), Baihakki Khaizan, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos (Shakir Hamzah 46), Anumanthan Mohan Kumar, Amirul Adli, Nazrul Nazari, Shahfiq Ghani (Khairul Nizam 76), Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi
- Shots: Oman 8 on target, 5 off target; Singapore 5 on target, 3 off target
- Corners: Oman 4, Singapore 1
- Yellow cards: Oman 3 (Saud Farsi 42, Basil Rawahi 61, Muhanad Hasani 84); Singapore 2 (Safuwan Baharudin 37, Shakir Hamzah 47)
- Offsides: Oman 4; Singapore 1
- Match Rating: 8.5/10
- Referee: Rowan Arumughan (India) 7/10
- TNP Man of the Match: Hassan Sunny
Renewed hope for U-23s
It was a mixture of joy and relief, but coming from behind to draw 3-3 with Oman in the second Group C fixture of the Asian Games is just half of the job.
Relieved and delighted, coach Aide Iskandar is already looking ahead to masterminding what will be an unlikely entry into the Round of 16 for the Singapore Under-23s.
For that, kinks need to be ironed out as Singapore need to beat Palestine on Sunday to stand a chance of finishing in the top two in the group and advancing.
"Immediately after the game, I told the boys that they can be happy with the result and the performance, but we must keep our feet on the ground, recover as fast as we can, and refocus for our next game," said the former Singapore captain.
And he knows the few issues that need to be addressed.
"We must stop conceding goals. We could've done better (in the situations the led to) goals that we conceded," said the 39-year-old, who will be fretting over injuries.
Defender Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman went off injured in the 86th minute after taking a kick to the shin, while Khairul Nizam looked as if he had over-extended his left knee. These are in addition to the ankle injury that had already ruled midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin out of last night's game.
Palestine qualified for the second round by virtue of winning both their games, and Aide wondered if they would let their reserves have a run out.
Buoyed by what his team showed on the pitch last night, he said: "The boys showed a lot of self-belief and character... they did the nation proud.
"We got one more game, let's hope."
- SHAMIR OSMAN
Two injured Singapore athletes pull out
Singapore shooter Hoong Shixiang has withdrawn from the Asian Games, after suffering from appendicitis in Incheon, South Korea.
He underwent a successful surgery on Monday at the Gachon University Gil Hospital, and is resting well under observation .
Originally scheduled to compete in the men's 10m air pistol and 50m free pistol events, he will be accompanied home on Saturday by his mother.
Judoka Ang Xuan Yi has also withdrawn from the Sept 19-Oct 4 Games after tearing a ligament in her ankle in Singapore. She was scheduled to compete in the women's under-57kg category event.