Football: Another late collapse

Football: Another late collapse
SURPRISE: Safuwan Baharudin’s (in blue) position in midfield raises eyebrows.

It was arranged to commemorate 50 years of relations between the two nations, and last night's clash between Singapore and Thailand in Korat took on even greater significance after the death of the Republic's first Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Monday.

In honour of Mr Lee, the Lions and the Thais all donned commemorative tops emblazoned with his face during the warm-up and the hosts did their part in honouring the occasion, allowing their opponents to play in blue rather than red and observing a minute's silence before kick-off.

But there was still the matter of a game to be played, between two great South-east Asian rivals and, in the end, it was the War Elephants who went on to claim a 2-0 victory, courtesy of goals by Suttinun Phuk-hom and Pokkhao Anan in the final few minutes.

Singapore's defence of the AFF Suzuki Cup on home soil in December ended disastrously in the opening group stage, when similar late losses to Malaysia and Thailand - who went on to be crowned ASEAN kings - contributed to their exit.

Bernd Stange's men may blame bad luck for last night's defeat, after they were forced into a reshuffle when they lost defender Afiq Yunos to a serious-looking knee injury shortly after the half-hour mark and yet match their opponents for the majority of the contest.

But Stange's decision to play Zulfahmi Arifin as a centre back while deploying Safuwan Baharudin in the engine room alongside Hariss Harun also raised a few eyebrows, although the German was adamant it was a move that went according to plan.

GOOD DECISION

"I think it was a good decision," he said, after the game.

"In holding midfield, with Hariss and Safuwan there, they cleaned everything - Thailand had no chances in the first half.

"I think it worked very well and the players put in a strong performance.

"We had a bit of bad luck with injuries and that could be a reason there was a loss in concentration, but I have nothing to complain about today."

In a fairly open start to proceedings, both sides, wearing black armbands to honour Singapore's founding father Mr Lee, had chances early on.

Jakkapan Pornsai fired a couple of efforts wide, before Sahil Suhaimi headed narrowly over in the 27th minute after good work by Khairul Amri down the left flank.

However, the Lions were dealt a blow four minutes later when Afiq, in a determined attempt to deny the hosts a shooting chance, landed awkwardly on his right leg for the knee to buckle, and had to be replaced by Hafiz Abu Sujad.

Rather than shift Safuwan back into the heart of defence, Stange opted to deploy Shaiful Esah as a centre back and that quickly allowed Kiatisuk Senamuang's to gain the physical edge in the final third.

Adisak Kraisorn, who was starting to loom as a real threat, wasted a couple of excellent chances before Izwan Mahbud produced a brilliant save to keep out a long-range strike from Theerathon Bunmathan in the 73rd minute.

Just when it looked like the visitors would hold out for the draw, another late collapse allowed their opponents to grab the win, with goalkeeper Izwan culpable for both goals.

With two minutes left on the clock, Izwan stood on his line and Suttinun was somehow left completely unmarked in the six-yard box to turn home Theerathon's free-kick.

In extra time, Izwan rushed out of goal for Pokkhao to easily lift the ball over him and seal the win.


This article was first published on March 27, 2015.
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