Singapore hold Hong Kong to 1-1 draw
Sundram's Lions still can't win or score more than once, but attack more with new system
|Safuwan Baharudin 76-pen||Chan Siu Ki 1|
The Lions' wretched run of form may have continued, as yesterday night's 1-1 draw against Hong Kong at Jalan Besar extended their winless streak to eight games since a 1-0 win over Cambodia last November.
But national football coach V Sundramoorthy can take heart from a spirited second half display that earned the draw as he plots to salvage Singapore's hopes of progressing from the Asian Cup qualifiers, and perhaps his own long-term future in this post.
The result and corresponding Fifa ranking points for holding the world No. 146 should lift the Lions from their current joint-worst position of 171st.
Sundram told The New Paper: "Of course, it's more crucial that we get points from Tuesday's qualifier against Turkmenistan here, but the ranking points are important to stop the slide.
"A win for us would have been a fairer result, but we will take the positives from this draw against a higher-ranked team."
Often criticised over the past year for being overly cautious as his side have now won only twice in 16 A internationals, scoring just eight times (and never more than once per game), the 51-year-old cannot be faulted for a lack of adventure in this match.
For the first time in his tenure, he started with three centre backs, two wing backs and three forwards - a 3-4-3 formation in attack that collapsed into a 5-4-1 while defending.
In front of 2,837 fans, Emmeric Ong was handed his international debut at right wing back, and he along with Shakir Hamzah on the opposite flank did well to trouble the opponents' full backs and put in decent crosses.
The problem, however, was that the Lions lack a centre forward of decent stature in the box, with veteran striker Khairul Amri the tallest at 1.72 metres.
Known for his attention to detail, Sundram must have been cursing as the Lions conceded within 50 seconds of the first whistle, when Lo Kong Wai's cross from the left somehow found skipper Chan Siu Ki, who lashed the ball on the bobble and scored off the bar.
He must also be frustrated to see his team struggle to get to grips with the new system in the earlier part of the first half and revert to aimless long passes.
However, as they settled into the game, they managed some nice combination play, and prevented Hong Kong - who eventually used eight naturalised players - from troubling goalkeeper Hassan Sunny other than the early goal.
In fact, they made the opponents, who had held Jordan and North Korea in June, look ordinary.
The hosts could have equalised before half time, when Faris Ramli slid his fellow forward Nazrul Nazari through, only for the latter to shoot straight at Wan Zhenpeng.
In the 59th minute, it was Faris' turn to do the same after being sent clear by Hariss Harun.
Shakir's relentless overlaps finally paid off when he was tripped by Lo in the box, and substitute Safuwan Baharudin shot down the middle to score the 76th-minute penalty.
Shakir almost notched another assist with another cross from the left in the 84th minute, but 18-year-old Ikhsan Fandi, who came on for Amri in the 71st minute, narrowly missed marking his senior debut with a dream goal as he slid in.
Ong marred his first cap with a poor backpass in the 86th minute, which resulted in him having to make a red-card tackle on Manoel Dos Santos just outside the box to prevent a one-on-one.
The 37-year-old Brazil-born Hong Kong forward then clipped the bar with the ensuing free kick as Singapore held on for the draw.
Sundram said: "This was one of our better games and a good morale booster before our game against Turkmenistan.
"We want to move forward with this system as it provides us more passing options for combination plays.
"In this match, we created chances and were dangerous from set-pieces, we just need to score more.
"We coped well against the opponents' physical presence, and also in terms of closing them down and winning the second ball.
"Other than scoring, we can still improve on keeping the ball and circulating it better, trying to find positions to attack the opponents' goal.
"I thought Emmeric had a decent performance and gave us a lot of strength in defence. Ikhsan, as an 18-year-old, put himself about and got stuck in with tackles. Both will give us good options for the future."
SINGAPORE: Hassan Sunny, Irfan Fandi (Madhu Mohana 77), Daniel Bennett, Zulfahmi Arifin, Emmeric Ong, Izzdin Shafiq (Shahdan Sulaiman 64), Hariss Harun, Shakir Hamzah, Nazrul Nazari (Safuwan Baharudin 46), Khairul Amri (Ikhsan Fandi 71), Faris Ramli (Shahril Ishak 80)
HONG KONG: Wan Zhenpeng, Jean Kilama, Helio Goncalves, Ju Yingzhi, Tsui Wang Kit (Festus Baise 76), Jonathan Sealy (Wong Tsz Ho 46), Tan Chun Lok (Lam Ka Wai 46), Wong Wai (Manoel Dos Santos 46), Lo Kong Wai, Alexander Akande (Alessandro Ferreira 46), Chan Siu Ki (Anthony Mckee 64)
TNP Man of the Match: Shakir Hamzah