SEA Games football: Singapore's semi-final hopes all but over
Singapore Under-22 team's semi-final hopes hang by a thread after loss to Malaysia
|Azam Azih 68'
N Thanabalan 74'
|Amiruldin Asraf 38'|
The Young Lions' hopes of qualifying for the SEA Games football semi-finals now hang by a thread - a five per cent chance according to their coach Richard Tardy - after losing 2-1 to hosts Malaysia last night for their second straight Group A defeat.
The table makes for a ghastlier picture as Singapore are bottom of the five-team group, pointless alongside Brunei and Laos, who have played one game less but possess a better goal difference.
Things could have turned out very differently as the Republic went into the break 1-0 up via a wondrous left-footed curler from Home United forward Amiruldin Asraf, one of two changes Tardy made from the 2-0 defeat by Myanmar on Monday.
Up to that point, the Young Lions looked far from a team who have won just three times, scored nine goals and conceded 31 in 13 international Under-23 matches. They are also winless in 13 S.League games.
They defended stoutly and put ample pressure on Harimau Muda, who struggled to live up to expectations in front of close to 33,000 fans inside the Shah Alam cauldron.
But Malaysia Under-22 coach Ong Kim Swee made changes at half-time and his substitutions worked a treat.
Azam Azih, on for Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik, rifled in the equaliser from just outside the box in the 68th minute.
N Thanabalan, who replaced Syahmi Safari, then completed Singapore's misery six minutes later when he capitalised on a lucky deflection and slack defending inside the box to slot past Zharfan Rohaizad.
Tardy pushed centre back Irfan Fandi into the attacking third to partner younger brother Ikhsan in the latter stages, but a lack of ideas meant the duo had no meaningful chance to salvage a point.
With Myanmar eking out a late 3-1 win over Laos to top Group A, this means Singapore must beat Laos and Brunei in their last two matches and hope Malaysia or Myanmar lose their remaining games for a slim chance of making the final four.
If they fail to beat Laos tomorrow, the Young Lions could even suffer the ignominy of being eliminated before Saturday's SEA Games opening ceremony.
Tardy said: "In the first half, our organisation was good. We controlled Malaysia, we made things difficult for them, we scored.
"After one hour, our problems started physically. It wasn't a problem of pressure from the crowd or the tactics.
"Unfortunately, we could not play the same in the second half as we did in the first.
"In this kind of game, at this level, it will be difficult because we were up against a good team with good individuals. Their No. 8 (Azam) came on and changed the game.
"We still have two more games. We arrived in this competition in pot 3, we want to beat Laos and Brunei and at least keep that position.
"Maybe the step up to match Malaysia and Myanmar is a little high, but we are not so far off.
"Now we must play to win the next two games. We are a national team, we don't resign."
- Myanmar 3 Laos 1