Cambodia U-22s give Republic's Cubs another reality check
SINGAPORE U-22 2
(Iqbal Hussein 19, M Anumanthan 88-pen)
CAMBODIA U-22 2
(Chan Vathanaka 54, 76-pen)
There was some slick pass-and-move football on show at the Jurong West Stadium last night, a lot intelligent off-the- ball running, even moments of lovely individual skill that brought fans to the edge of their seats.
Most of it, though, came from the visiting Cambodia Under-22 side.
Lee Tae Hoon's charges have, in the span of four days, given Singapore football a reality check.
On Thursday, they beat Aide Iskandar's South-east Asia (SEA) Games squad 3-1 and, last night, drew 2-2 with Richard Bok's Under-22s who will leave for Vientiane tomorrow to compete in Group I qualifiers for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 championships.
While Bok's younger squad performed significantly better than Aide's boys did in Thursday's shambolic showing that saw fans calling for the former Singapore skipper to be sacked, it was clear that Cambodia are no more whipping boys of the region.
"They are at the same level as us. They played modern football, with quality passing and movement," said national coach Bernd Stange, who was watching closely from the stands.
"They have two absolutely outstanding players in the No. 7 (Prak Mony Udom) and No. 11 (Chan Vathanaka), and outstanding players make the difference in games," added the 66-year-old German.
Vathanaka bagged a brace last night, the first a 54th-minute diving header following a flowing move down the left, as central defender Irfan Fandi was receiving treatment behind the goal.
That was the equaliser after Iqbal Hussein had given Singapore a 19th-minute lead.
Vathanaka's second was a well-struck penalty in the 76th minute after the unfortunate R Aaravin was harshly judged to have handled the ball in the box.
Substitute M Anumanthan slammed home a penalty two minutes from time to save Singapore football the ignominy of suffering two straight defeats by Lee's Cambodia.
"We needed this game to get a further look at my team... especially players I haven't had a good look at," said Bok.
"We did pretty well in the first half, there was good movement going forward but, in the second half, Cambodia were coming at us. I think 2-2 was a fair result."
Aide's absence from Jurong West was conspicuous, considering the fact that several players from his squad were included in Bok's team, who by Stange's assessment, did better than on Thursday.
"Looking at how the players fought, this was an improvement from the match (on Thursday). In fact, this team did much better," said Stange.
Bok had a close look at the likes of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and even East Timor at the recent Asean Under-21 tournament hosted in the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan last August.
From his observations, he said it would be foolhardy if the traditional football powerhouses of this region such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia assume they are still head and shoulders above the so-called minnows like the Angkor Warriors.
"At the U-21 level, they are on par with us, maybe even slightly ahead of us. They've spent money, brought in good coaches, and are now technically and tactically sound - kudos to them," said Bok.
Although Singapare are handed a relatively easy draw against China, Laos and Mongolia at the U-23 qualifiers in Vientiane, the former Warriors coach does not expect to cruise into the finals to be hosted by Qatar next year from Jan 12-30.
Said Bok: "There are no more easy games like there were 10 years ago.
"I saw Laos play in Brunei, and they play a similar game to this Cambodia side."
"We will have to look closely at our team, manage the boys well, and work hard."
The finals of the AFC U-23 championships act as a qualifying tournament to the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Bok's charges will face Laos in their first Group I qualifier on Friday.
"Looking at how the players fought... this team did much better."
- National coach Bernd Stange comparing the performance of the Singapore Under-22s with their SEA Games-bound counterparts