Lions crash out on a whimper
Thailand show gulf in class with emphatic victory over Fandi's charges
The Lions' Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup campaign, which has been punctuated with promise, was punctured by the deflation of a sound 3-0 defeat by Thailand in Bangkok last night.
The fearlessness interim national coach Fandi Ahmad promised in the press conference ahead of the Group B crunch match failed to materialise on the pitch as the War Elephants trampled all over his side's chances of qualifying for the semi-finals of the biennial tournament.
There's no shame in losing to back-to-back Suzuki Cup champions Thailand, but it was the meek manner of yesterday's loss, the Lions' biggest defeat by the Thais since a 4-0 loss at the King's Cup in 2002, that was disappointing.
Fandi and his team deserve credit for coming into their final match with a shot - albeit an unlikely one - of making the last four had they won last night.
But at the Rajamangala Stadium, there was little evidence of the positivity engendered by the wins against Indonesia and Timor-Leste, or even the narrow defeat by the Philippines.
The tie was effectively over in the 23rd minute after Thailand capitalised on a couple of defensive errors to go 2-0 ahead.
On 12 minutes, the Lions went behind via Irfan Fandi's own goal from a Thailand corner.
Perhaps caught cold by the short-corner routine between Sanrawat Dechmitr and Korrakot Wiriya-Udomsiri, the Singapore defence pushed up, leaving three Thai players to attack the latter's cross.
They all missed it, along with goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, but the ball hit an unsuspecting Irfan and diverted into goal.
Ten minutes later, Zulqarnaen Suzliman sliced his clearance from a routine long ball from the Thai half into the path of Supachai Jaided, who controlled and finished neatly past Hassan.
Ikhsan Fandi, meanwhile, tested goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom twice with good shots, but Singapore's best chance came when the Thai goalkeeper miscontrolled a back pass and it almost rolled into his own goal in the 37th minute.
Besides that, it was all Thailand and they created two more clear-cut chances and were denied a penalty before they finally put the Lions to bed in the final minute.
All of the openings were conjured up by Sanrawat, who was picked out by Thai-based duo Hassan and Zulfahmi Arifin before the match as the War Elephants' man to watch.
Unfortunately for them, they were right.
The Lions had no answer to the scheming playmaker, who capped off the match by setting up tournament top scorer Adisak Kraisorn to score his eighth goal in the final minute.
Former Tampines Rovers man Sanrawat is perhaps the encapsulation of the challenge the Lions face.
He's only in the starting XI because Thailand coach Milovan Rajevac was denied the services of South-east Asia's best player, J-League based Chanathip Songkrasin.
For all the promise of the Lions' first three matches, and the feel-good factor generated by Fandi's positive start to his reign, the reality of the gulf Singapore have to bridge to the region's best was laid bare by the quality of Thailand's back-up No. 10.
Said Fandi: "Thailand are miles away from us... We have a long way to go compared to Thailand, but we can give other teams a run for their money.
"Even though they didn't put all their best players, they are very attack-minded and fast...
"Too bad, Thailand drew (with the Philippines) in Bacolod but we also made a mistake against the Philippines, which could have been a draw."
Chatchai Budprom, Mika Chunuonsee, Pansa Hemviboon, Chalermpong Kerdkaew, Korrakot Wiriya-Udomsiri, Thitipan Puangchan, Tanaboon Kesarat, Nurul Sriyankem (Pokklaw Anan 54), Sanrawat Dechmitr (Pakorn Prempak 90+3), Supachai Jaided, Adisak Kraisorn (Philip Roller 90+1)
Hassan Sunny, Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Faris Ramli 46), Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin, Shakir Hamzah, Nazrul Nazari (Faritz Hameed 79), Zulfahmi Arifin, Hariss Harun, Izzdin Shafiq, Gabriel Quak (Baihakki Khaizan 67), Ikhsan Fandi.