Brave Lions sunk by soft goals
Singapore take the fight to Uzbekistan, but lapses at the back prove costly
On the eve of the match, Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida promised to take the game to Uzbekistan, despite the Lions lying 69 places below their 88th-ranked opponents.
And last night, as the White Wolves defeated the Lions 3-1, there was a feeling among the 12,547 fans at the National Stadium that the Lions have completed their transition into a more adventurous unit under the Japanese tactician.
Match by match, the Lions are showing that they have what it takes to go toe to toe with some of Asia's best teams.
But ultimately, as was the case in the 2-2 draw against Yemen at the same venue last month, defensive lapses meant the result did not reflect their overall performance on the night.
|(Ikhsan Fandi 45)||(Odil Akhmedov 15, Eldor Shomurodov 51, 90)|
Said Lions captain Hariss Harun: "The last two goals showed a lapse of concentration. We tried to keep up with a team that has more quality... but it wasn't enough.
"The coach has been trying to give us the belief that we can compete. We have a lot to take away from the last two games, against two top teams."
Buoyed by the Lions' recent showing, the Singapore crowd were more expectant last night than in recent years. There were plenty of claps and cheers whenever the Lions were in possession. Chants of "we want goal" broke out at almost every opportunity.
Coach Yoshida said at the post-match conference that he could see the growing faith from the fans, adding: "Since June, there's been plenty of improvement from the boys as well.
"There wasn't a big difference between Uzbekistan and us. But we must accept the result and we must keep our heads up.
"I'm disappointed only with the result. Against teams like that, we have to limit their chances."
Uzbekistan coach Vadim Abramov said he wasn't surprised by the Lions' brave performance.
He said : " I looked at the previous games and they looked like a good team. They are a very good team."
Uzbekistan's Odil Ahmedov, who plies his trade in the Chinese Super League with Shanghai SIPG, broke the deadlock in the 15th minute with a cleanly struck free-kick into the bottom corner from just outside the box.
Yoshida lined up the Lions in a 4-3-3 formation with Zulfahmi Arifin, a midfielder by trade, filling in at left-back for the injured Shakir Hamzah.
Unlike the other fullback Nazrul Nazari, Zulfahmi was given clear instructions to tuck in to midfield when the Lions were in possession.
The Japanese coach was hoping to maximise the Hougang United midfielder's ability to play precise, long balls out wide from the back. It worked a treat for the Lions' equaliser just before half-time.
Zulfahmi's cross-field ball found Nazrul in space on the right flank, with the latter setting the ball up for Shahdan Sulaiman's inch-perfect cross into the box.
Ikhsan Fandi rose highest to net the equaliser with a thumping header for his seventh goal in national colours.
But two defensive lapses in the second half ultimately proved to be the Lions' undoing.
Eldor Shomurodov, the Russian Premier League's top scorer with 10 goals in 12 games, notched a brace to secure the win for the Uzbeks.
Left unmarked in the box in the 51st minute, the Rostov forward headed in a cross from the left flank.
As the clock ticked towards the final whistle, the visitors caught the Lions out again. Ikromjon Alibaev's pass went through the backline and sent Shomurodov one on one with goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
While the defenders signalled for offside, the forward kept calm to round Izwan before slotting in for his second goal of the night.
SINGAPORE: Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Safuwan Baharudin, Irfan Fandi, Zulfahmi Arifin (Irwan Shah 81), Shahdan Sulaiman, Hami Syahin, Hariss Harun (C ), Shawal Anuar (Faris Ramli 62), Hafiz Nor, Ikhsan Fandi (Gabriel Quak 69)
UZBEKISTAN: Eldorbek Suyunov, Khojiakbar Alijonov, Islom Tukhtakhodjaev, Farrukh Sayfiev, Rustam Ashurmatov, Otabek Shukurov (Ikromjon Alibaev 51), Odil Ahmedov (C), Jaloliddin Masharipov, Sanjar Kodirqulov, Eldor Shomurodov, Dostonbek Khamdamov
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