Luck gets Young Lions out of jail

Vietnam 0

Singapore 1

It was neither the most pleasant spectacle for a fan, nor was it exactly the vintage football that a coach looks for from a team challenging for top honours.

But luck wins championships, and Singapore's hard-fought 1-0 victory over Vietnam was the perfect tonic to kick-start their hunt for gold at the SEA Games.

The Young Lions wake up today sitting atop Group A, despite taking 18 minutes to string four passes together at the Zayya Thiri Stadium last night.

Sahil Suhaimi's deflected effort - their first shot on target at the 45th-minute mark - proved to be the difference in a match which Vietnam dominated from start to finish.

Singapore were blitzed from the kick-off. In the first five minutes, Le Van Thang's half-volley and a diving header from Han Minh Tuan came within centimetres of the goal.

Birthday boy Afiq Yunos, who turned 23 Tuesday, was targeted early on. Balls were played into space over the lanky defender for Vietnam's pacey front line to chase. They mixed it up too, with some neat, one-touch passing around the Young Lions' box.

But, like Singapore in their opening 1-1 draw with Laos, a final touch was lacking.

Vietnamese fans among the 6,000-strong crowd hurled abuse and cast perplexed looks as shots were fired anywhere but at Izwan Mahbud's goal.

Their profligacy was punished on the stroke of half-time.

Zulfahmi Arifin's corner was cleared into the path of Sahil, whose tame shot from 20 metres took a wicked deflection off Pham Manh Hung into the net. Singapore's bench erupted in a mixture of delight and disbelief.

But coach Aide Iskandar still was not happy, remonstrating at Faritz Hameed and captain Hariss Harun for making careless passes.

Attacking right-back Faritz was duly replaced at the break for a more defensive Madhu Mohana.

It was an inspired change, as his off-the-line clearance from a header epitomised the team's backs-to-the-wall defending in the second half.

As the tournament progresses and keener opposition awaits, the question remains: Where will Singapore's goals come from?

Aide's men will get some target practice on Friday against point-less Brunei, who fell 0-2 to champions Malaysia Tuesday.

The biggest worry is finding the right attacking quartet in the favoured 4-2-3-1 set-up. Vietnam's burly backline was too much to handle for Singapore's small and speedy forwards.

For a second straight game, forward Shahfiq Ghani cut a peripheral figure, pouting at a perceived lack of support rather than pressing his opponents.

Central midfielders Hariss and Zulfahmi were often closed down before they could find a team-mate down the channels.

But with no other recognised strikers in the squad, Aide has to rely on the talent at his disposal.

Two weeks from now, Singapore fans will hope this was the turning point of their campaign, rather than another example of a blunt attack that promised much but delivered little.

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