S'pore fall to late penalty in Suzuki Cup opener
(Khairul Amri 20)
(Mongkol Thosakrai 9, Charyl Chappuis 89-pen)
Safuwan Baharudin lay flat on his back, staring at the closed dome of the National Stadium.
Singapore fell 1-2 to Thailand in their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B opener last night, and it was Safuwan's outstretched arm that struck the ball, and presented Charyl Chappuis to score the visitors' 89th-minute winner from the penalty spot.
In that one moment, the 23-year-old, often a hero for Singapore in the past - and putting in a decent shift on the night - turned villain, and harshly so.
"Our group is the group of death, and (last night) we were lucky to get three points," said Thailand coach Kiatisuk Senamuang after the match.
"Before the game, we tried to get one point, but we got a lucky (penalty) just a few minutes before the 90th minute."
Thailand were not as dominant as many had expected, with Hariss Harun's sturdy defensive showing in the middle of the park breaking up one Thai attack after another.
But the Johor Darul Ta'zim midfielder could do nothing about Thailand's opening goal in the ninth minute - the result of their trademark quick passing football.
Mongkol Thosakrai applied the finishing touch to a slick passing move that gave space and time for Prakit Deeprom to drive in a left-wing cross that caught the Singapore defence flat-footed.
Just 11 minutes later, the superb Khairul Amri headed in Singapore's first attempt on goal off a peach of a Shaiful Esah cross, etching his name into the history books as the first Singaporean goal-scorer at the National Stadium.
The 29-year-old has three goals in three Suzuki Cup finals (2004, 2007 and 2012) that Singapore have won and, last night, he showed that he is still a player for the big occasion.
He was a hero on the night, chasing down lost causes, won them, even setting up chances for the likes of Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli, who shockingly spurned every one of them, before Chappuis bagged the winner.
Faris, 22, was the brightest spark in a poor LionsXII season in the Malaysian Super League, and fans would have backed him to give Singapore the lead in the 24th minute, when released by Amri, and again in the 74th minute when he was set free by Shahril Ishak, but he failed to find the net on both occasions.
But Singapore coach Bernd Stange refused to criticise his young charge.
"I come from Europe, where these chances are clear goals. But Faris is young and, this time next year, he will score. He will be ready in one or two years," said the German, who took Baihakki Khaizan off at half-time fearing the central defender would pick up a second yellow card after his 17th-minute caution.
Despite having a central defender - Ammirul Adli, 18 - on his bench, Stange decided to put on midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin, and drop the effective Hariss into defence.
The Lions' other central defender, Afiq Yunos, 24, was left out of the matchday squad.
Explaining that he couldn't risk putting in an 18-year-old in a game of this magnitude, Stange said he was pleased that the tactical switch worked and he did not regret bringing a young team to a tourney that he believes Singapore can win.
"There are no young or old players, only good and bad players," said the German, whose task is to reinvigorate his charges before facing Radojko Avramovic's Myanmar on Wednesday.
Singapore are bottom of the group after Malaysia and Myanmar played out a 0-0 draw at the Jalan Besar Stadium in yesterday's earlier game, and need a result to stay alive.
"The team are feeling down, because we expected a little bit more (in the game), and fans may be unhappy with the result, but they won't be unhappy with the performance," said Stange.
"We went one goal down, but came back against a strong Thai team. This was a very unlucky defeat... but we won't need a sports psychologist - we will just try to win the match against Myanmar."
Related report: Stange doesn't blame Bai, Safuwan for the two goals conceded