Lack of fitness, discipline and focus
National football coach Bernd Stange demands a high-tempo possession game, which Singapore have shown glimpses of.
But, under the 66-year-old German, the Lions have developed a shocking propensity to leak in the second half, with 25 out of 38 goals conceded coming in the second period.
It was the same story at the Suzuki Cup. They lost 2-1 to Thailand in the closing minutes, before they nearly threw away a three-goal lead against Myanmar.
Khairul Amri's 83rd-minute equaliser would have been enough to send Singapore through to the semi-finals, but they contrived to concede twice in added time to lose 3-1 to Malaysia last night and crash out of the tournament.
Singapore midfielder Hariss Harun said: "They were more direct. It felt like we dominated the match and then they started to stretch us."
In all three games, Singapore also conceded penalties, and did not seem to learn the lesson of not giving the referee the slightest of opportunities to punish them.
And, in all 10 games where Singapore have gone behind under Stange, they have never come back to get a result.
The Lions clearly have what it takes to compete at this level, and adapt to Stange's style but, like what their coach reiterated, the boys have to improve their fitness, discipline and focus.
While Shakir Hamzah deputised well for the suspended Baihakki Khaizan in the heart of defence, Stange reacted to Shahdan Sulaiman's horrific leg break with a major reshuffling, as skipper and playmaker Shahril Ishak dropped into central midfield, and gave Shahfiq Ghani and Fazrul Nawaz their first starts in this tournament.
This could have unsettled the team somewhat after playing two games with the same starting 11.
Left back Shaiful Esah had good games, but a groin strain meant he couldn't keep up with the pace in the second half last night, allowing Safee Sali space to power home a 61st-minute opener.
Stange sprung a surprise by fielding five forwards against Malaysia, with Khairul Amri backed up by Fazrul, Shahfiq, Shahril and Faris Ramli.
Shahril's attacking abilities were blunted as he had to help out with defensive duties, and Fazrul, Shahfiq and Faris all failed to penetrate the Malaysian defence.
Singapore had five shots on target, and four were from set-pieces.
Stange said: "We had to find a way to field our best team available.
"Everyone was asking for Fazrul, who scored 10 goals in the league, and I brought him in, and Shahfiq was our best player at the recent Asian Games.
"I risked it and that's the way... we were very unlucky today."
After declaring his team will defend the title, Stange then said his team "lacked backbone that Singapore had in the last two to three years with the foreign talent."
Mustafic Fahrudin would definitely have given the Lions bite in midfield, and would have been an experienced option in defence. Juma'at Jantan could also have provided cover at both fullback positions and in defensive midfield too.
Even if they didn't start, the seasoned duo would have been a calming influence.
Stange said he had no regrets over his 22-man squad selection, but then admitted he could have overlooked some players.
"We picked the best players," he said.
"The game is faster and faster now, just look at Vietnam and Thailand. I believe it is a young man's game, and not for those deep in their 30s."
There will be those who feel Hafiz Abu Sujad's nudge on Amri Yahyah warranted a penalty but, upon reviewing the replays, the decision by Oman's Al Kaf Ahmed Abu Bakar looked harsh.
"From my view, it didn't look like a penalty," said Stange.
Amri was nowhere close to heading Zubir Azmi's cross, and Sri Lankan assistant referee Deniye Gedara Palitha Parakkrama Hemathunga did not flag for a foul, while the Malaysian players did not appeal for a penalty as well.
But it wasn't just that. The officials failed to keep a lid on a fiercely-contested Causeway Derby by letting niggling fouls slide, before deciding to call a penalty on a 50-50 challenge.
This article was first published on November 30, 2014.
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