V. Sundram Moorthy’s Laos stifle Fandi Ahmad's Young Lions
But ex-Lions coach says he gets no extra joy from holding ex-teammate Fandi's team, as Singapore is still his home country
Former Singapore coach V. Sundram Moorthy came back to haunt his former team last night, as his Laos side held Fandi Ahmad's Young Lions to a goalless draw in their SEA Games opener at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
With three-time defending champions Thailand, Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup winners Vietnam and 2017 bronze medallists Indonesia also in the group, Fandi said before yesterday's clash that anything less than a win would leave his team with a "mountain to climb".
And that is exactly the scenario Sundram has created for his former Lions strike partner Fandi in their 13th meeting as coaches, and their first in the international arena.
Said Fandi: "We are very disappointed because we could have gotten the three points.
"It wasn't our best game, but we still created a number of chances... but I guess it was not our day.
"We missed a lot of sitters... Our midfield wasn't dominating, especially in the first half.
"In the second half... we created a lot of chances, we dominated.
"Mostly we were in their half and they were trying to hit us on the break.
"We saw Indonesia beat Thailand, it'll be a very tough group."
Aside from Faris Ramli's fifth-minute shot that flew just over from outside the box, the Young Lions offered little threat to the Laos goal for most of the first half.
Even Singapore's height advantage counted for little, as the Young Lions' numerous set-pieces went to waste.
Said Sundram: "In training, we worked very hard on marking on set-plays...
"We (also) expected Singapore to play the long balls to Ikhsan (Fandi) and to Faris on the flanks, where he can beat players one-on-one.
"We worked on it in training... doubling up on (Faris), so he wouldn't get space and time."
Singapore's first shot on target arrived only in the 33rd minute, when Shah Shahiran slipped a through-ball into the area for striker Ikhsan, but Xaysavath Souvanhnasok raced out to smother it.
That seemed to rouse the Young Lions and, two minutes later, a right-wing cross from Faris - one of the team's overaged players - found an unmarked Irfan, but he blazed his effort well over.
The Young Lions seemed to start the second half with more urgency as Ikhsan got his second presentable chance on 47 minutes.
A cute Hami Syahin pass found Zulqarnaen Suzliman on the right flank, with his cut-back finding Ikhsan.
But the 20-year-old, who has been impressive for the senior national team with eight goals from 18 caps, placed his shot too close to the goalkeeper.
Five minutes later, Laos gave Singapore a scare when Tajeli Salamat misjudged a routine long ball, allowing Bounphachan Bounkong to unleash a shot that goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad was equal to.
The Young Lions regained the momentum, though, with Zulqarnaen testing Xaysavath on 55 minutes and Shah sending a powerful shot from outside the box just wide.
However, the Young Lions' early second-half impetus seemed to fade away in the final third of the match.
But their height advantage ensured they had two more chances before the final whistle, both via Tajeli crosses to Ikhsan, who plies his trade in the Norwegian second tier with Raufoss IL.
On 65 minutes, the right-back - who was the other overaged player selected by Fandi - sent in a lovely deep cross that found a soaring Ikhsan, but his header went just wide.
Twelve minutes from time, that combination conjured up another opening, which ended up with Ikhsan's header crashing off the crossbar.
Laos had the chance to grab their first victory against Singapore in nine SEA Games meetings four minutes from time, when a defensive lapse allowed Soukaphone Vongchiengkham to steal in, but his powerful shot flew just over.
On a night when not much went right for Fandi's team, perhaps their only consolation is that the other four occasions when Singapore were held by Laos, they went home with bronze medals.
Said Sundram: "It's a good point for Laos to start the campaign and we are satisfied.
"But I don't really take extra joy from this draw because, at the end of the day, Singapore is my home country."
Xaysavath Souvanhnasok, Kittisak Phomvongsa, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, Chanthachone Thinolath (Loungleuang Keophouvong 68), Somxay Keohanam, Phithack Kongmathilath (Somsavath Sophabmixay 75), Aphixay Thanakhanty, Somlith Sengvanny, Bounphachan Bounkong, Kaharn Phetsivilay, Vanna Bounlovongsa
Zharfan Rohaizad, Zulqarnaen Suzliman (Ryhan Stewart 86), Irfan Fandi, Lionel Tan, Syahrul Sazali, Tajeli Salamat, Jacob Mahler, Hami Syahin, Shah Shahiran (Haiqal Pashia 69), Faris Ramli, Ikhsan Fandi