The boys in red walked out of the tunnel, onto the pitch and lined up for the national anthem. As Majulah Singapura played, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight before me. I know that co-writer Kim was probably singing his lungs out at 2AM in the morning.
International football has finally returned for the Singapore National Team, and after 557 days, we have finally seen our Lions in action. Yet, it was never going to be a smooth-sailing ride. The Palestinians have demonstrated their prowess in earlier fixtures, notably a 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan and a 0-0 draw against Saudi Arabia. It didn’t help that the Lions were missing three vital players.
With national team regulars Harris Harun, Safuwan Baharudin and Ikhsan Fandi absent, Tatsuma Yoshida decided to go with a 4-4-2 formation. Tatsuma had opted for a 3-4-3 formation with the full-backs deployed in the wide-midfield positions in their previous meeting back in 2019. Before the game, I had high hopes for the Lions and I was thrilled for the kick off.
The First Half
When the whistle blew, the Lions looked rather decent, with Madhu Mohana shepherding some Palestinian attacks out of play.
Well, things were decent until the 7th minute at least. A mistake by Anumanthan allowed the Palestinian players to engineer an offence into the penalty box. Madhu Mohana was outpaced and unfortunately, he made contact with the Palestinian forward and brought him down to give away a penalty.
Tamer Seyam stepped up to take the penalty, and while Izwan managed to get a hand to his shot, he couldn’t prevent the ball from sneaking past him and into the back of the net.
The second goal could have been prevented by Izwan Mahbud, who truly lacked sharpness in the first 45 minutes. Once again, Izwan had a hand on Oday Dabbagh’s shot but dealt with it poorly. The Singapore custodian could not prevent it from creeping past him.
The third goal was from the penalty spot yet again. Irfan Fandi unluckily handled the ball as he tried to make a clearance from a Palestinian corner kick. Unfortunately for Irfan, Tamer Seyam stepped up once again and this time sent Izwan the wrong way.
Down 3-0 in the first half, the Lions needed a miracle to save this game.
The 4-4-2 system failed to engage Gabriel Quak and Hafiz Nor effectively, but most importantly, allowed Palestine to dominate the middle of the park. It was clear as day that we needed to change something in the second half.
While we may have ultimately gone on to lose the match, Tatsuma did improve things in the 45 minutes that followed.
The Second Half
Faris Ramli’s introduction into the game for Ilhan Fandi was expected given the latter’s lack of involvement in the first half. Though, what really turned my head was Baihakki coming in for Gabriel Quak. It seemed like we had decided to play with 3 at the back with an additional man thrust forward in a 3-4-3/3-5-2 system.
Bai’s leadership and experience really helped stabilize the defence and the rest of the team looked more confident with Faris Ramli leading the attack. The pacey forward was dropping back to collect the ball and feed it to his teammates who made forward runs on top of making darting runs himself. Why he didn’t start the game ahead of Ilhan bewilders me.
We were defensively sound for the majority of the second half before a lapse in concentration gifted the Palestinians a goal from a corner kick in the 85th minute. This time Yaser Hamed, who had scored against the Lions at Jalan Besar in 2019, scored to bring the Palestinians up 4-0.
We may have conceded a goal, but the Singapore team posed a far bigger threat in the second half and I take solace in the fact that we actually looked menacing at times.
We even came close to scoring! Shahdan Sulaiman could have provided us with a consolation goal but his effort went wide in the 89th minute. After four minutes of added time, the proceedings came to a close, and Singapore dropped below Palestine in their group’s table.
At times, our players got physically bullied and man-handled by the Palestinian players in midfield and fielding an extra man in the centre of the park would help our chances against Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. Anumanthan had a poor first-half showing but looked much better after half-time. Perhaps it was Bai’s influence or the fact that there were more players in the midfield that helped ease him into the game. Filling Harris Harun’s shoes is no easy feat, but Anu would be expected to do the same against Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. I sincerely believe that he has it in him to get the job done and provide defensive cover for his backline.
If it isn’t obvious enough, I’ll state it. Faris needs to start as our striker. Ilhan Fandi isn’t ready to bear responsibility as Singapore’s starting forward. The eighteen-year-old needs time to grow, and he failed to make any significant contribution during the first half. Granted, the Singapore team was in shambles, but Ilhan could have done more – I mean just look at Faris’s energy.
Izwan Mahbud’s lack of sharpness is concerning and perhaps reintroducing Hassan Sunny to the fold is worth a shout. The Monitor SG talked about Izwan’s lack of match fitness potentially affecting the team but little did I realize how this materialized into reality. The Izwan we saw yesterday was miles off from the Izwan we witnessed during that 0-0 draw against Japan.
Fellow writer Kim Ng notes how “Irfan Fandi showed that his time in Thailand had augmented him into a defender with solid physicality and great awareness, and it was perhaps unlucky that his lapses of concentration led directly to goals. In hindsight, having Madhu Mohana as his centre-back partner in a flat back 4 might not have been such a great idea, with the Lions looking much more comfortable with 3 at the back instead. Baihaikki’s leadership had proved a boon to the stability as well, and in the absence of Safuwan, one may be hopeful at least that this game’s tinkering showed a fairly positive defensive result. I did enjoy the build-up play from the defence (mostly in the second half when we weren’t as wasteful) and it at least showed a certain level of confidence from the boys. And boy, do we need that for the next games to come.”
Our boys in red have shown us in the second period that they have the hunger and fight in them to succeed. We need to see more of that throughout the ninety minutes in the upcoming fixtures.
We play Uzbekistan next in four days time and our chances of winning against them are very slim. Yet, if you recall my previous article. It is all about the process. The second half against Palestine demonstrated that Tatsuma has sound game plans in his arsenal. He just needs to use them more often. Until then, here’s hoping that the team rests up, learns from the points above and regroups for the next game.
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