Goal-shy Singapore out of Suzuki Cup
Sundram's men miss crucial chances and exit Asean tourney at opening stage, again
AFF SUZUKI CUP
(Khairul Amri 27)
(Andik Vermansyah 62, Stefano Lilipaly 85)
For 35 minutes last night, Singapore had one foot in the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
By the time referee Masoud Naifa blew the final whistle, however, they were bound for the exit.
A second-half collapse meant the Lions fell 2-1 to Indonesia in their final Group A match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The result meant Singapore were booted out of the tournament at the group stage for the second consecutive time, while Indonesia, the lowest ranked team in Group A, sensationally sealed a place in the final four.
V Sundramoorthy's charges did not know what hit them.
Winger Faris Ramli and fullback Faritz Hameed sat dazed on the track beside the team bench, casting an envious glance towards the Indonesian players who celebrated their unlikely progress with their sizeable support.
Defenders Daniel Bennett and Baihakki Khaizan - both owners of three Suzuki Cup winners' medals - stood stunned by the side of the pitch, wondering how they lost a game where they had appeared to be in control.
The truth is, while the Lions played a decent game overall, they fluffed their lines at both ends of the pitch, and it proved decisive.
Sundram admitted as much.
"We took the lead and we were confident we could maintain it, but they sent two crosses in and marking in the box was lacking," said the coach, with a shake of the head.
"We had enough chances to score, but didn't take it."
Indonesia, who headed into the game with the slimmest chance of three sides - the other two hopefuls were Singapore and Philippines - to join Thailand in the semi-finals, showed their intent early.
After just five minutes, half-Dutch midfielder Stefano Lilipaly saw his free-kick pushed against the upright by Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, before livewire winger Andik Vermansyah sent a shot from over 25 metres fizzing just centimetres over the crossbar.
But it was Singapore who took the lead, and in spectacular fashion, in the 27th minute.
A long throw-in by Madhu Mohana was flicked towards the back post by Safuwan Baharudin, and Khairul Amri volleyed home acrobatically for his 32nd goal in 113 appearances for the Lions.
The 31-year-old should have bagged his 33rd, just three minutes after the break.
But, after Faris played a superb pass between two defenders into Amri's path, and through on goal, the striker fired straight at Indonesian goalkeeper Kurnia Meiga.
Little did he, and the rest of the team, know how costly the miss would prove.
In the 62nd minute, Andik, who had vowed to make his mark against the Lions on the eve of the match, pulled his side level with a smart volley from a cross by teammate Rizky Pora.
With the score level at both the Rizal Memorial and the Philippine Sports Stadium some 40km away between Thailand and the Philippines, Singapore were on their way out of the tournament.
But they did not throw in the towel, and pushed forward for a second.
First, Hariss Harun saw his header from close range clawed over the bar by Kurnia.
Then, in the 80th minute, Safuwan, famed for his aerial prowess, easily outjumped Indonesia's 1.68m leftback Abduh Lestaluhu at the back post, but somehow headed over.
Again, the miss was punished.
Five minutes before the end, Indonesia skipper Boas Salossa managed to keep the ball in play and hooked it into the box.
With the Singapore defenders ball watching, Lilipaly arrived steaming in to slam home past a rooted Hassan.
The Lions knew they had no one else to blame but themselves.
Amri wore a pained expression as he got on the team bus, with tears in his eyes.
Said team vice-captain Hariss: "If you can't score goals, you can't win games.
"We were unlucky (in the late 1-0 loss) against Thailand.
"But tonight, we blew it in the second half.
"We could have scored a second to take control of the game but we didn't."
The group-stage exit casts a pall over the long-term future of Sundram, who has six months to go on his one-year contract and had set a target of reaching the Suzuki Cup semi-finals.
He was in no mood to discuss the matter last night, however, responding brusquely to a reporter who brought up the issue.
He replied: "How long have you been in your job? After six months, did people judge your future?"
TEAMS & RATINGS
SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny 7.5, Faritz Hameed 6, Madhu Mohana 7, Daniel Bennett 7, Shakir Hamzah 6, Yasir Hanapi 6.5 (Shahril Ishak 76), M Anumanthan 6 (Shahfiq Ghani 86), Hariss Harun 7, Faris Ramli 6.5 (Gabriel Quak 91), Safuwan Baharudin 6, Khairul Amri 7.
INDONESIA: Kurnia Meiga 7, Benny Wahyudi 6 (Manahati Lestusen 73), Rodolfo Basna 6.5, Fachruddin Aryanto 6.5, Abduh Lestaluhu 6, Bayu Pradana 7, Stefano Lilipaly 7, Andik Vermansyah 7.5, Evan Dimas 6 (Ferdinand Sinaga 58), Rizky Pora 6.5 (Zulham Zamrun 78), Boas Salossa 6.5
Shots: Singapore 5 on, 8 off; Indonesia 9 on, 8 off
Corners: Singapore 3, Indonesia 1
Offsides: Singapore 1, Indonesia 3
Yellow cards: Singapore 1 (Shakir), Indonesia 2 (Fachruddin, Boas)
Referee: Masoud Naifa (Syria) 7/10
Match rating: 8/10
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Andik Vermansyah (Indonesia)