Makeshift S'pore U-23s sink in Merdeka opener

Makeshift S'pore U-23s sink in Merdeka opener

In a gloomy 24 hours for Singapore football, the national Under-23 side lost 0-1 to their counterparts from Malaysia at the Merdeka Tournament in Kuantan on Saturday. The loss came a day after the senior side were whacked 1-6 by China in an international friendly.

V. Sundramoorthy's young side, missing key players on senior-team duty in Tianjin - goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, right-back Faritz Hameed, left-back Shakir Hamzah, centre-back Safuwan Baharudin, midfielder Hariss Harun and forward Shahfiq Ghani - struggled to get their Merdeka campaign off on a winning note.

Played on a rain-soaked pitch, it was Malaysia - coached by Ong Kim Swee - who had more fire-power as pacy striker Thamil Arasu, tricky right midfielder Wan Zack Haikal and powerful central midfielder Junior Eldstal caused all sorts of problems for Sundram's men at the Darulmakmur Stadium.

The pressure from the hosts paid off just 10 seconds into the second half when Eldstal, who is half-Swedish, flicked on a long punt for Arasu to sidefoot past goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari. Then in the 55th minute, centre-back Afiq Yunos was given a straight red card for a blatant handball on the goalline during a goalmouth melee. However, Syazwan dived to his left to parry away Wan Zack's penalty.

The Courts Young Lions custodian had a creditable game between the posts and his safe hands prevented a rout by the hosts.

The visitors' best chance came in the 45th minute, when striker Khairul Nizam latched on to midfielder Izzdin Shafiq's through ball, but saw his low curling shot saved.

The match serves as useful practice for both teams, who are preparing for December's SEA Games in Myanmar. Singapore will next play a Thailand selection side tomorrow.

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