Lions end 13-match winless streak
Sundram's men get first win since November 2016 with 3-2 victory over the Maldives
|(Hariss Harun 38, Shahdan Sulaiman 66-pen, Shakir Hamzah 73)||(Mohamed Umair 41, Ibrahim Hussain 81)|
Sixteen months of going without a victory came to an end yesterday as Singapore conjured a dominant performance in a 3-2 win over the Maldives at the National Stadium on Friday night.
For the first time in a long time, the Lions, who have struggled in front of goal, could heave a sigh of relief as they put three past the visitors to end a 13-match winless streak.
While coach V. Sundram Moorthy believes that the result will be a much-needed boost for his players, he also rued his side’s defending, labelling the goals that they had conceded as “soft”.
He said: “The win is good for the confidence. The first half, they created chances. We should have at least been leading 3-1. The second-half penalty was a clear one, and then Shakir scored (the third) despite some of the misses.
“The concern is that we gave away two soft goals.”
For most of the game, Singapore put up a positive display, ploughing forward tirelessly and creating several chances.
The Lions wasted no time getting into the game as Nazrul Nazari’s long-range shot in the first minute went over the crossbar.
Their next chance came nine minutes later when Irfan Fandi met fellow centre-back Zulfahmi Arifin’s corner with a powerful header, but Maldives goalkeeper Mohamed Faisal was equal to the task.
They continued to fashion a handful of clear-cut chances, including a 28th-minute volley by Shawal Anuar that rattled the post, but their efforts fell short as they failed to find the back of the net.
The home side’s persistence was rewarded in the 38th minute when captain Hariss Harun pounced on a loose ball from a corner to break the deadlock.
But this sparked a response from the Maldives as just two minutes later, Mohamed Umair scored from a free-kick to cancel Hariss’ opener.
Just before the break, the Maldives even had a chance to flip the game around after Mohamed Irufaan skipped past Singapore’s backline, but he placed his shot slightly wide of the post.
The Lions continued to press in the second half, and they regained their lead through a Shahdan Sulaiman penalty in the 66th minute, after Shawal was fouled by Maldives defender Shamoor Ali.
Buoyed by their second goal, the Lions continued to surge forward, and duly earned their third after Irfan’s long ball found an unmarked Shakir, who smashed it past Faisal.
With his side leading 3-1, Sundram made a slew of substitutions to give other players a run, including Geylang International defender Anders Aplin who earned his first cap coming on as a substitute for Irfan.
The Maldives were not done yet, however, and narrowed the deficit with nine minutes left when Ibrahim Mahudhee Hussain wrestled away from Shahdan to bury the ball in the corner of the net.
The visitors pressed hard in search of an equaliser, prompting moments of panic, but Singapore clung on to see themselves through to their first victory in over a year.
Despite the loss, Maldives coach Petar Segrt remained satisfied with his team’s effort in his first game in charge.
He said: “Congratulations to Singapore. For me, it was clear that they won because they have the better team at the moment and all over the game, it was lucky for us to be standing at 0-0.
“I’m very happy for the team and the people of Maldives. Today, we played with some players who are 17 years old, the first time we had one training yesterday, and I’m very impressed. I hope that this team can be the future developing.”
The victory sets the Lions up well for their next game on Tuesday as they travel to Taiwan for a dead-rubber Asian Cup qualifier.
The former national forward admitted that Taiwan, who defeated them 2-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium last June, will be a tougher side to beat.
He said: “They’re much stronger. They’re very organised. They’re introducing young players, boys from Crystal Palace and they have a Scottish Premier League player, Turkish boy up front, Spanish boy behind. They’re just adding more foreigners so I believe it’s not going to be easy.
“We played strong teams and we competed well. I believe that if we get the organisation right and the boys are willing to follow tactically, we should be able to do okay.”
With year-end Suzuki Cup - their biggest assignment of the year - on the back of his mind, Sundram insisted that his players have to continue playing against stronger opponents to challenge themselves.
He said: “We must look at playing teams that are stronger even though we will lose but we will compete to see where we are. Now it’s been a long run (without a win) so we managed to get teams where we get a chance to win.”