SINGAPORE 2 (Sahil Suhaimi 17, Fazrul Nawaz 24)
PAPUA NEW GUINEA 1 (Raymond Gunemba 61)
If the majority of the 1,748 Singapore fans had left the Hougang Stadium at half-time, they would be forgiven.
And they were probably justified in doing so.
In a game of two distinct halves, Singapore beat Papua New Guinea (PNG) 2-1 last night to kick-start their preparations for November's AFF Suzuki Cup.
Judging from each half of football, the Lions will either be strong contenders to defend their ASEAN crown, or struggle to make it out of the group stage.
But, if anything was clear, it was that Singapore's challenge will depend considerably on young hotshot Sahil Suhaimi.
The 22-year-old striker, donning the Lions jersey for the fourth time, scored his first international goal in the 17th minute to give the home side the lead.
The goal was a mark of confidence and brilliance.
Played through from midfield by Shahdan Sulaiman, Sahil steered the ball past three defenders before unleashing a rasping shot, which struck the goalkeeper's fingers and post before crossing the line. The crowd had drawn a collective sigh just after Sahil beat the second man and pushed the ball wide to his right; perhaps thinking that the chance had gone.
But Sahil admitted after the game that he knew exactly what he was doing.
"I definitely couldn't shoot in front of those defenders, they would've blocked my shot," explained the Courts Young Lions player.
"The angle became a bit narrow, so I needed a bit of luck, but I knew I could hit the target.
"It feels great to score for your country and, hopefully there will be more goals to come."
Lions' assistant coach, Aide Iskandar, standing in for Bernd Stange who was down with fever last night, certainly thinks Sahil could be Singapore football's next big thing. "He can be one of the biggest players in Singapore football," Aide said.
"Bernd and I have been emphasising that he needs to work harder - because he's not the finished product yet.
"He's definitely one of the strikers we're looking at for the Suzuki Cup but, don't forget, we also have (Khairul) Amri and Shahril (Ishak).
"Playing alongside those two will help Sahil's game."
The Lions doubled their lead in the 24th minute when Shahfiq Ghani crossed low for Fazrul Nawaz to turn home, but despite creating numerous chances in the first half, Singapore could not add to their lead.
They almost paid the price when PNG came out stronger in the second half.
The visitors, led by Kiwi coach Wynton Rufer and ranked 200th in the world, gave a good account of themselves after the break.
What they lacked in technique, they made up for in fitness and tactical discipline; never really giving the Singapore players too much room on the ball, even during the game's later stages.
The visitors pulled a goal back in the 61st minute following a neat team move finished off by Raymond Gunemba, who hit low into the bottom corner.
The Lions looked sluggish even after PNG's goal and provided little excitement for the remainder of the game - perhaps saving their legs for Tuesday's friendly against Hong Kong at the same venue.
Said Aide: "We could've had a bigger lead at half-time, but we weren't as clinical (in front of goal) as we should've been.
"To be fair, when we made several changes in the second half, it disrupted our rhythm as well.
"Of course, we need to improve against Hong Kong, who are a quality side.
"With Faris Ramli and Safuwan Baharudin back from injury to play in that match, we'll be a stronger side."
DEBUTANTS WHO SHONE
The mention of Papua New Guinea will always carry special significance to five Singapore players. Two made their national debut in the first 11 - fullbacks Fadli Kamis and Al-Qaasimy Rahman. And three others - S Suria Prakash, Amirul Adli, and Shameer Aziq - all earned their first national cap when they came on in the second half. Here's how TNP rates the debutants:
Position: Left back.
The Courts Young Lions captain is perhaps the most experienced among the five, having been part of previous Singapore squads in the past. Though playing on the unfamiliar left side, Al-Qaasimy put in a decent, hard-tackling shift. Likely to be a first-team right back in the future.
Position: Right back
Kept his opponent quiet on the left wing and didn't make too many mistakes. Might not make the Suzuki Cup team, but looks a reliable defender for the South-east Asia (SEA) Games squad next year.
S SURIA PRAKASH
Wowed the crowd with his blistering pace down the flanks but, aside from one cross, failed to make his time on the ball count. A name to look out for.
Position: Centre back
Came on for the off-colour Afiq Yunos at the break, and looked steady at the back beside Baihakki Khaizan. Could have been more decisive and prevented the PNG goal.
The stocky midfielder was given just two minutes to make his mark when he came on for Fazrul Nawaz in injury time. Still, it was enough time for him to beat a defender near the byeline and attempt a cross into the box. Unfortunately, it was cleared easily.
This article was first published on September 07, 2014.
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