More such games, please

They defended for most of the 90 minutes, chasing after the faster, fitter and technically superior Oman.

They conceded three goals and were comprehensively beaten.

The 3-1 score at the final whistle flattered the visitors, but it didn’t stop Singapore captain Shahril Ishak from enjoying every second of the Lions’ final Asian Cup Group A qualifier in Muscat on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t matter if we defend for 90 minutes and lose,” the 30-year-old told The New Paper after the match.

“These are the sort of games I love to play in – in front of a crowd, against high-level opposition.” Shahril had one good reason to be upbeat. He became the only player to score against Oman in the qualifying campaign after his smart finish in the 78th minute.

Played through delightfully by midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahril raced clear of the Omani defence and kept his cool to slot the ball past Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.


Said Shahril: “It was a really good pass from Zul. My first touch was good, so the rest was easy... it went through the ‘keeper’s legs, so that was nice.”

Heading into the match, the Lions had a mathematical chance of qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. But facing an Oman team easily among the top 10 in Asia, no one expected them to come away from Muscat with even a point.

As expected, Bernd Stange’s Lions were given a football lesson as the Group A leaders attacked from the start. The Lions were on the back foot and conceded five corners in a torrid opening 15 minutes.

The first goal came via a rare error from centre back Safuwan Baharudin, whose botched clearance fell perfectly for striker Amad Al-Hosni to rifle his shot past goalkeeper Hassan Sunny after 19 minutes.

The second goal, in the 51st minute by Qasim Said, came via a deflection off Afiq Yunos, which wrong footed Hassan in goal. Oman effectively stretched their lead after 69 minutes when Qasim tapped home from close range after a neat build-up.

A good exchange of passes and a killer pass from Zulfahmi ensured the Lions took something home from the tie with Shahril’s subsequent finish. Stange had said in the build-up to the match that he would use the game as the starting point for the Suzuki Cup, which the Lions will defend on home soil at the end of the year.

As far as lessons learnt go, right back Juma’at Jantan said the team had to improve on their concentration levels. “In every match, we have to keep focused at all times, at this level we can’t slip up even once,” said the 30-year-old, who played his first international in more than a year last night.

Juma’at, who has 29 caps, said the youngsters in defence — Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos and Shakir Hamzah — did well considering the level of opposition, but need to communicate better on the pitch. “Oman were very strong and fast on the flanks,” he said.

“Their off-the-ball running confused us many times — I wasn’t sure whether to tuck in or stay wide.

“But I’m sure all of us will gain from this experience. We need to play teams like this; then we know where we stand.”

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