Better show by U-23s, but coach Aide knows there's much to do
SINGAPORE U-23 1
(Irfan Fandi 17)
SYRIA U-23 2
(Khaled Almbayed 16, Shadi Alhamwi 45+5)
They were criticised for letting their heads drop and watching as Japan's Under-23 side steam-rolled to an 8-1 victory in last Saturday's friendly.
There was none of that last night, as the Singapore U-23s faced their Syrian counterparts in a highly-charged clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Indeed, Syria coach Muhannad Al-Fakeer bemoaned what he felt was an overly physical approach by Aide Iskandar's battling charges, even as the visitors ran out 2-1 winners.
"The (Singapore) team played and fought a lot, sometimes making fouls - big fouls - without getting a card, especially in the first half.
"My players did not have enough experience to deal with that, but we tried to dominate the game and we did," said Al-Fakeer, whose team thumped Richard Bok's U-22 side preparing for the Olympic qualifiers 6-1 in a friendly on Wednesday.
"The U-22 team are better, they tried to play fast football and were disciplined on the field. This (U-23) team are very strong, but they (were looking to) play long balls behind our defence."
KEPT ON FIGHTING
Former Singapore captain Aide shrugged off the criticism, insisting that his team are well on track ahead for June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games, which will be held on home soil.
"After a heavy defeat, we don't want to see that hangover and the boys were pushing each other, that was very positive. Even after we went a goal down, we kept on fighting," said Aide.
"I respect (Al-Fakeer's) opinions, but I thought we tried to play football and there was some good combination play.
"Our defence did well, we limited chances for Syria."
While Aide was pleased with the spirit of the performance, he admitted there was still much work to do, especially with the sharpness in attack and ability to play at a strong tempo for the duration of a game.
While Shakir Hamzah and Sheikh Abdul Hadi turned in good performances at the heart of the defence, Singapore went only 16 minutes before conceding, Khaled Almbayed scoring with a well-struck volley after the hosts failed to clear their lines.
Irfan Fandi scored against Japan last Saturday and his striker's instincts were on show again last night, bundling in from close range just a minute later.
But a lapse in concentration saw the hosts concede another with what turned out to be the last kick of the first half.
Shadi Alhamwi was the beneficiary, stabbing into an empty net after the Singapore side's defence once again failed to clear their lines.
"We lost concentration and conceded in the last minute of the first half, that is something we have to work on," said Aide, who also wants his team to be more clinical in front of goal.
"We're still in the preparatory phase and I don't want the team to peak too early - we're not match fit yet."
Aide's charges will now turn their attentions to the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, where they will compete under the banner of the Courts Young Lions. They open their season on March 2 against Hougang United.
"There's no guarantee when they will peak, but the team should be ready by May," said Aide.
"We'll be a team who are ready to win the first game (at the SEA Games)."
We’re very pleased with Irfan’s performance, but he’s still young and we have to manage expectations. It’s nice to see him scoring two goals in two games, but we don’t want to rely on him too much.
— Aide Iskandar on 17-year-old forward, Irfan Fandi (No. 17)
- SINGAPORE: Syazwan Buhari, Al-Qaasimy Rahman (Fadli Kamis 87), Shakir Hamzah, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Ali Hudzaifi (Afiq Noor 46), M Anumanthan, Amirul Adli (Safirul Sulaiman 83), Suria Prakash, Iqbal Hussain, Shahfiq Ghani, Irfan Fandi (Ridho Jafri 78) (Shamil Sharif 90)
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Yousef Kalfa (Syria U-23)