28th SEA GAMES
Hosts fall 0-1 to Indonesia and will have no part to play in semi-finals
National Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar delivered the biggest shock of the SEA Games football competition when he resigned immediately after the Young Lions' 0-1 loss to Indonesia at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
The defeat ended Singapore's involvement in the SEA Games football tournament in the group stages, an outcome which would have been described as a big surprise coming into the tournament.
But no one could have predicted the bombshell the embattled coach dropped just minutes after his side crashed out, becoming the first Singapore side not to make the last four at a Games on home soil.
In a brief address where he took no questions, he said: "Starting two years ago, I tried to build a team for this SEA Games. I faced a lot of challenges as coach.
"Tonight, Irfan Fandi and Faris Ramli weren't fully fit so I could not start them. I'm very proud of my boys, they pushed for the equaliser even when we were one man down."
Then, fighting back tears, the former national skipper said: "I thank you all for your support. I want to go back to my family now. They have been waiting for me for a long time."
Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin said the FAS would speak to Aide and ask him to reconsider.
He said: "I can understand why Aide has made this decision at this point of time...
"Regardless of how we have fared at the SEA Games, Aide is a good coach and has a long and bright future ahead of him."
Aide's decision to leave may have something to do with how a certain section of fans turned against him, his team and even his family.
After unimpressive performances at the Games - Aide's men beat the Philippines 1-0, lost 1-2 to Myanmar and beat Cambodia 3-1 before the Indonesia loss - a section of fans had called for his head.
His players, especially Sahil Suhaimi, and even his children had been subjected to verbal abuse.
Midfielder Anumanthan Kumar said the feeling in the dressing room was one of collective disbelief when the players were told of Aide's decision.
He said: "We broke down. We don't know what would happen next."
It is understood that Aide was also frustrated after run-ins within the FAS. Sources told The Straits Times that Aide did not have a say on the selection of some of his coaching staff. Goalkeeper coach John Burridge, who had worked with the SEA Games team in the build-up to the tournament, was also strangely missing from the team during the Games.
Yet, Singapore's destiny was in their hands yesterday. Had they beaten Indonesia, they would have made the last four.
After a goalless first half, Aide introduced Irfan and Faris after the break. The dynamic duo were each carrying knocks, but were forced on as half-time substitutes after their side failed to muster a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Under heavy rain and heavier expectations, the stage was all set. And it promptly collapsed.
Within a minute of the restart, Evan Dimas silenced the 7,000-odd crowd with an exquisite curler from just inside the box. It would signal the end of the road for the Young Lions, who also had Ho Wai Loon sent off for two bookable offences.
But no one expected it would also mean the end of the road for coach Aide.
Shahfiq missed, but Young Lions' strikers went missing
Prior to the SEA Games, it seemed that the Singapore Under-23 team were armed with one of the most lethal attacking forces in the tournament.
But as they crashed out last night after a 0-1 defeat by Indonesia in a match they had to win, the Young Lions were once again toothless in attack.
Before the tournament began, coach Aide Iskandar was unsure of who he would field at centre-back as he tried out a variety of options.
The attack was never supposed to be a worry for the tactician but in 360 minutes of football at the Games, it was the front men who floundered.
Against Indonesia, they failed to muster a single shot on target in the first half. Two minutes after the break, their best chance fell to Sahil Suhaimi but the striker's header from close range was saved.
Just as worrying is the team's inability to string moves to find alternative routes around the visitors. Instead of passing in triangles, they ran in circles.
Individually, the team possessed players of calibre up front.
Sahil was coming into the Games on the back of a Cup-winning performance after a brace for the LionsXII in the 3-1 Malaysia FA Cup final win over Kelantan.
Irfan Fandi, who scored five goals in six friendlies before the Games, was tipped to follow in his father's footsteps and get the crowd on their feet.
Adam Swandi, back from his sojourn in France with Metz FC, was supposed to add some guile to the attack with his creativity.
The injured Shahfiq Ghani was missed as the midfielder's set-pieces are a major threat.
Of their five goals in the Games, only two came from open play when Faris Ramli and Sahil netted in the 3-1 win over Cambodia on Monday.
The other three came via dead balls. But what frustrated the fans was the team's tendency to hoof balls up to the front men.
The Singapore U-23 team now exit the SEA Games with a whimper but if the forwards had delivered, Singaporeans could well have been making plans to fill up the National Stadium on Saturday for the semi-finals.
But as it turned out, like the Singapore attack, those plans will now be non-existent.
This article was first published on June 12, 2015.
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