Singapore squander lead to lose 2-1 to Sri Lanka
Hosts throw away lead and now face uphill struggle
(Adam Aniq 10)
SRI LANKA 2
(Damith Mahara 39, Abeetha Fernando 59)
There were some envious Singaporean glances as the Sri Lanka hockey team gathered around the goal, whooping and cheering.
It was only the fourth day of the World League (WL) Round 1 tournament, but the Sri Lankan men's team celebrated - and even posed for pictures - like they had already assured themselves of qualification into the next round as one of the top three sides here.
And, in all likelihood, they have.
The South Asians awoke from a 20-minute slumber to come from behind and beat the hosts 2-1 in a Pool B clash last night at the Sengkang Hockey Stadium, with the Republic's hockey men leaving themselves a mountain to climb if they are to finish in the top three and qualify for the next round.
Only one spot separates Singapore (10th) and Sri Lanka (ninth) in the Asian Hockey rankings.
With China (sixth), the highest ranked team in the tournament, leading the Pool A, the win means Sri Lanka will likely avoid them in Saturday's semi-finals.
It was evident to all in the Singapore camp that victory was presented to Sri Lanka.
"In the first 20 minutes, I was very happy with the performance, but after that they (Sri Lanka) managed to settle and figure out how to exploit us," said Singapore captain Enrico Marican.
"For me, it's really an issue of maturity and how to be smarter out on the field."
Singapore's Adam Aniq scored 10 minutes into the game, slapping in a rebound after a penalty corner routine went awry, and the hosts appeared to grow from strength to strength.
Sri Lankan defender Damith Mahara cleared off the line five minutes later, when Ahmad Faris' deflection looked destined for the back of the net.
The home side looked comfortable in possession and comfortable in defence, but those did not last long.
Led by the irrepressible Damith, the individual skills of Sri Lanka came to the fore, with Singapore clearly relieved to get to the break with the lead intact.
But the visitors picked up where they left off at the restart, running rings around the Singapore side that started to concede possession cheaply.
Damith equalised within four minutes of the restart with a well-taken penalty corner, then took four Singapore defenders for a ride before laying off for teammate Abeetha Fernando to slide in what proved to be the winner in the 59th minute.
It was a second half that - save for the final few moments - was all Sri Lanka, and Singapore coach Solomon Casoojee was obviously unhappy.
"We were dominating the first stanza (of the game), then people out there started to change things. And, in the second half, we looked like we didn't know how to play hockey.
"There was a lot of nervous energy and we looked like we didn't trust ourselves," he said.
"It wasn't a game that they won, it was a game that we lost - there was poor discipline, poor organisation, poor structure. If we had followed the game plan, we might have won."
Singapore have it all to do, with China already amassing a whopping 22 goals and conceding just one against Thailand and Vietnam.
"Now we have to beat China (in the semi-finals) to get through - assuming of course that we beat Myanmar. We've made it tough for ourselves, but we've now got to swallow that bitter pill," added Casoojee.
Singapore have one more fixture left to play in the four-team pool, against Myanmar tomorrow, and it will not be easy.
Casoojee's men were held 1-1 by Myanmar in a group fixture at the same venue in last year's SEA Games and qualified for the semi-finals - en route to a silver medal - only by virtue of scoring one goal more.
But Enrico remained positive.
"We're definitely not favourites against China, but nothing is impossible," he said.
"I will tell the boys to take in this feeling of defeat, know where the mistakes are, learn from them, but also take some positives."
This was a key game in our group because, if we won, we could be pool winners and avoid China. And we had to change the pattern of our game after studying the match and how Singapore played.
— Sri Lanka coach Bandara Herath, on his team’s victory
MEN'S POOL A
- Brunei 3 Vietnam 1
MEN'S POOL B
- Kazakhstan 5 Myanmar 0
2.30pm: Brunei v Cambodia
3pm: Kazakhstan v Sri Lanka
8pm: Thailand v Singapore
MEN'S POOL A
5pm: Vietnam v Thailand
5.30pm: Hong Kong v China
MEN'S POOL B
7.30pm: Kazakhstan v Sri Lanka