Given the 4-0 thumping by Palestine, Singapore’s chances of qualifying for the next round have become seemingly impossible. It doesn’t help that our last two fixtures are against the favourites in the group: Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia. The national team knew that beating the Uzbeks would be an insurmountable task but this is football after all and quite literally, anything can happen.
Head coach Tatsuma made a total of five changes to his starting XI. Gabriel Quak, Ilhan Fandi, Irfan Fandi, M. Anumanthan and Hafiz Nor made way for Baihakki Khaizan, Faris Ramli, Hazzuwan Halim, Zulfahmi Arifin and Hafiz Sujad.
Unfortunately, there was no miracle moment for the Lions.
Just like the match against Palestine, Singapore conceded three avoidable goals in the first half. We started off strongly but we conceded early on once again. This time in the 6th minute, when Ikromjon Alibaev’s beautifully executed lobbed pass found Jaloliddin Masharipov, whose first time shot beat Izwan at his near post. Masharipov’s shot ricocheted off the woodwork and into the back of the net.
Despite conceding early, however, Singapore played with a lot more confidence than they did against Palestine. Even Izwan Mahbud managed to pull off important saves. He even managed to deny a brilliant goal-bound header from Eldor Shomurodov.
Nevertheless, the 29th-minute substitution of Hafiz Sujad for Irfan Fandi bamboozled me, because it didn’t appear as if Hafiz was injured. Was this a tactical change? Besides that change, Singapore were playing decent direct football and looked like they had a bit more bite in them than they ever did against Palestine. All things considered, Singapore shaped up rather well.
Then, in the 34th minute, Masharipov struck again. It was rather unlucky for Izwan, who did well to keep out the first shot, but his defence did not come to his aid when the ball landed to Uzbekistan’s number 10. Masharipov calmly slotted the ball into the bottom left corner of the goalpost for his second goal of the night.
Even then, Singapore did not let up, and there was still a glimmer of hope that we could salvage something.
Then, at the stroke of halftime, the death knell sounded. Denied by Izwan earlier, Eldor Shomurodov was not going to waste his chance, and the striker for Serie A club Genoa made it three for Uzbekistan.
Down 3-0 at halftime, it seemed like déjà vu for the Lions. Yet, the Lions put on a much significant showing against arguably stronger opponents.
Shawal Anuar and Hami Syahin came on at the start of the second half for Nazrul Nazari and Zulfahmi Arifin. Shawal Anuar, in particular, started the half well and showcased his dribbling prowess as he whizzed past the Uzbekistan players. After coming on for Hazzuwan Halim in the 73rd minute, Saifullah Akbar also demonstrated the immense potential he possesses. Despite this being his second-ever cap, he showed glimpses of brilliance.
However, it wasn’t long before Singapore fell victim to the fourth goal against Uzbekistan. This time Odil Ahmedov managed to grab a well-deserved goal after previous attempts had eluded him. The Uzbekistan players caught Singapore on the break and their blistering pace overpowered the Lions’ defence. Ahmedov buried his shot into the back of the net. Once again, Izwan was beaten at his near post – the third time of the match.
Faris Ramli could have grabbed a consolation goal in the 73rd minute, but his header attempt narrowly missed the beautifully whipped ball. It sort of summed up Faris’s game today – he was trying very hard to make a positive impact but rarely had the support needed.
It looked like Singapore were going to lose 4-0 again, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The football gods can be cruel at times and they showed their cruelty here, at Irfan Fandi’s expense, no less. In the dying embers of regulation time, Irfan Fandi scored a truly unlucky own goal.
When the final whistle sounded, our chances of qualification to the next round ended along with the match. Yet, despite the crushing scoreline, our boys in red deserve some praise for showing spirit in this fixture.
That being said there are serious unresolved issues that need addressing. I’ll discuss these in our upcoming podcast episode [Episode 4] so stay tuned for that!
Fearured Image: Football Association of Singapore
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