Singapore's SEA Games dream of a football gold medal was dealt a heavy blow after a chaotic 90 minutes against Myanmar last night. But the writing on the wall, ahead of the eventual 1-2 defeat, was evident an hour before kick-off.
Fans and media alike exchanged puzzled looks when talented 17-year-old Irfan Fandi was once again left out of the starting line-up.
The 1.87m striker had, in coach Aide Iskandar's words, "added a new dimension" as a 36th-minute substitute in the 1-0 opening win over the Philippines on Monday.
Yet, in a game that Singapore could not afford to lose if the Young Lions hope to top Group A, the team's most dangerous player against the Philippines was a surprise non-starter.
It was even more surprising that after another toothless display by chief striker Sahil Suhaimi, the son of Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad was called into action at 1-1 with only about 30 minutes left on the clock.
Yet, he came closest to scoring for the hosts last night, glancing a header just wide in the final moments, which would have earned his side a much-needed equaliser.
Aide defended his decision not to bring on his young striker earlier, saying: "Irfan is still young. He's the type of player who can't last 90 minutes.
"He can change the game when he comes in. He had a couple of headers which could have been a goal, but I'm not going to point fingers at him.
"Singaporeans must still believe in these boys. It doesn't mean (because) we lost today that we are a bad team. We played better than we did against the Philippines."
The fans did turn out in force - more than half of the 7,500 crowd were rooting for the home team.
But the Young Lions gave them little reason to cheer.
Headers and tackles were mistimed and team-mates were arguing after possession was ceded sloppily. When they did win the ball back, Aide's men proceeded to give it right back to their pacey, counter-attacking opponents.
The high-pressing visitors deservedly took the lead in the 24th minute, captain Tun Nay Lin stealing in at the back post to score with an inswinging free kick.
Aide cut an animated figure on the sidelines, imploring his players to get going.
They responded just past the half-hour mark.
Shakir Hamzah's teasing cross from the left was misjudged and handled in the area by defender Phyo Ko Ko Thein.
Up stepped Faris Ramli to the penalty spot as he powered the ball into the net, past a fully-stretched Phyo Kyaw Zin.
In truth, Faris and Co. never truly tested the 1.72m goalkeeper, regarded as Myanmar's weakest link for his inability to deal with high balls.
Singapore's lack of a cutting edge proved costly when the White Angels regained their lead on the hour mark in bizarre circumstances.
The Young Lions fans howled in horror as Ye Ko Oo's free kick from 30 metres took an awkward final bounce over the flailing hands and legs of goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
Cue pandemonium in the away stands, and a hands-on-head look of exasperation from Aide.
Irfan, who came on for an ineffectual Stanely Ng in the 57th minute, did get the ball in the net late on, but his effort was disallowed for a foul on Zin.
But he, more than any other Young Lion, was getting into positions to hurt Myanmar and pin the visitors inside the final third.
The Singapore players slumped on the turf in shock and disappointment at the final whistle. But they have only themselves to blame.
Myanmar, who did not even make the semi-finals as hosts two years ago, had huffed and puffed their way to victory, while Singapore, quite simply, fluffed.
Misfiring Sahil is in the firing line
He was wasteful with his finishing in the opening victory against the Philippines.
But while the 1-0 result on Monday saw Sahil Suhaimi get away with his catalogue of missed chances, the striker's continued poor marksmanship in yesterday's 1-2 SEA Games football loss to Myanmar will leave him exposed to criticism.
After missing several gilt-edged chances against the Philippines, Sahil was once again fruitless in his search for his first goal of this tournament.
Presented with at least seven opportunities, he squandered every one, much to the anguish of the watching Singapore faithful at the sold-out Jalan Besar Stadium.
The best of the chances came in the 69th minute. He found space in the box but, with only the goalkeeper to beat, skied his effort over the bar.
He was also guilty of choosing to go for the spectacular as he executed at least three shots from outside the box when he could have held on to the ball or played his team-mate in.
Sahil's current struggles are a far cry from his heroics for the LionsXII in the Malaysian FA Cup final where he netted an impressive brace for Fandi Ahmad's side in a 3-1 win over Kelantan in front of 87,000 fans at Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
Coach Aide Iskandar, who preferred Sahil to Irfan Fandi as his leading striker, shared the fans' sentiments on the touchline, shaking his head and throwing his arms up in despair as every effort failed to hit the target.
If the Young Lions are to progress from Group A and end a 56-year search for that elusive first football gold, Sahil will need to rediscover his scoring form in time for Singapore's next match against Cambodia on Monday.
Aide is under no illusions that his players need to start hitting the target.
"In general, we did well, we created chances but we did not score," he said. "In order to win matches, we need to score. We have to learn that.
"We will keep on working on the finishing and we need a little bit of luck.
"Cambodia are a good team but we are here to win games."
This article was first published on June 05, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.