Singapore Under-23s 1
Laos Under-23s 1
NAYPYIDAW - ONE momentary lapse of concentration, two precious points dropped, and Singapore's SEA Games campaign to finally win a football gold got off to a worryingly unconvincing start yesterday.
The Young Lions toiled without much to show for against 10-man Laos for most of their Group A opener, and paid the price when their opponents scored a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at the Zayyathiri Stadium.
They had led since the 26th minute through Sahil Suhaimi, but failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage and wealth of possession.
And defiant Laos sent the 6,000-strong crowd into rapturous cheers, when substitute Khouanta Sivongthong stole in at the back post in the 86th minute and headed past the despairing dive of Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
It had all seemed to go the way of Aide Iskandar's men from the start of the match.
The clock on the giant scoreboard at the stadium showed 1min 20sec, when Laos captain Saison Khounsamnan went in for a reckless studs-up tackle that left striker Shahfiq Ghani writhing on the ground in pain near the centre circle.
China referee Wang Zhe immediately showed the red card, amid furious remonstrations from the Laos players.
When play resumed, however, the red card did not help the team in red, as the Young Lions' passes in the final third went cold, with their fired-up opponents packing the backline.
That was until in-form striker Sahil stepped up, latching onto Zulfahmi Arifin's neat dink into the box. Chesting to bring the ball down, he swivelled deftly to create the perfect angle, and executed a perfect half-volley across goal in the 28th minute.
However, Singapore failed to capitalise on their lead. In fact, when Laos tried to push forward for an equaliser, the Young Lions failed to make full use of the new-found gaps amid the Laos defence, spraying passes awry at a worrying rate.
For all Singapore's speed and style, their attack lacked a robust presence, a player who could hold up the ball and play with his back to goal.
Time and again, good build-up play from the back - particularly from full-backs Hafiz Sujad and Faritz Hameed - was squandered.
The diminutive tandem of Sahil and Shahfiq did draw their markers away, allowing central midfielder Zulfahmi and Hariss Harun to float raking balls into the final third, but to no avail.
Indeed, with tougher opposition such as Malaysia and Vietnam coming up, those passes have to be far more accurate to make their possession count.
Vietnam, for instance, turned their domination into a goal-fest yesterday, thrashing Brunei 7-0 in the earlier Group A match.
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