My palms became sweaty and my heart was in my mouth as the Saudi players launched attack after attack. As each Saudi attack fizzled out for a goal kick or throw in, it allowed me to catch my breath. However, it was but a momentary respite before play resumed again and my anxiety returned.
Despite the high levels of stress, I felt alive watching Singapore once again. I marveled at the way our players threw their bodies in front of each shot and positioned themselves to cut passing lanes. Izwan Mahbud looked as if he was back. The Singapore custodian made important saves and was largely helped out by his defenders who really gave it their all.
Yet, it wasn’t just the defence.
Going forward, we looked decent as well. Faris Ramli needs to be applauded for his work ethic, and the pacey forward seemed to never run out of juice.
At half time it was 0-0, and I couldn’t believe what I was saying. Everyone thought it was going to be game over for Singapore, and some even suggested a 10-0 thrashing at the hands of the Saudis. That reality wasn’t out of the ball park as well. After all, Iran had put ten past our Southeast Asian neighbour Cambodia yesterday.
When the second half began, Singapore did not flinch. When we brought on Shawal Anuar for Yasir Hanapi, I was excited. Shawal has been excellent for the Lions and felt that we could potentially score. Shawal came so close to scoring as well. His shot hitting the woodwork after Mohammed Al-Owais spilled his save.
Up till the 83rd minute, we looked decent and, for large parts of the game, defensively organized. When our defenses were occasionally breached, Lady Luck was on Singapore’s side and the Saudi players simply could not convert their countless chances.
Unfortunately, our luck ran out in the 84th minute, as we finally conceded. It was absolutely gut-wrenching, and I can only imagine what the players must be feeling. After all that hard work, we conceded and in truly unlucky fashion as well.
Saleh Al-Shehri’s shot hit the cross bar and Salem Al-Dawsari did well to follow up and slot the ball past Izwan Mahbud.
A combination of tired legs and lapses in concentration meant we conceded a further two goals in the dying embers of the game.
Yes, we may have lost 3-0 to Saudi Arabia. Yet, the scoreline in no way reflects the impressive display put up by the Singapore national team. If you didn’t catch the game because you gave up on Singapore football, I urge you to watch this fixture.
To all the cynics who predicted a 6-0 thumping, the boys have proven you wrong.
The boys in red put on a truly spirited performance. We demonstrated hunger, grit and desire for the ball.
We need to seriously reflect why we could play the way we did for 83 minutes against Saudi Arabia. We need to build from the positives and ask ourselves an important question – what prevented us from playing this way against Palestine and Uzbekistan?
Perhaps it was because we started more players who attended the March centralized training camp. Barring Izwan Mahbud, Irfan Fandi and Zulfahmi Arifin, the other players of the starting eleven were attendees. Maybe that explains why the team looked more like a cohesive unit?
Or maybe the team needed time to gel? We need to remember that we only played one “friendly” match after a year and a half without any international fixtures.
Whatever it is, we need to build from this display and more importantly learn from the errors we have made.
We have floundered against Palestine and Uzbekistan, but we ended the World Cup Qualifying campaign with little to complain about.
Hold your heads up high lads, you’ve done the Nation proud.
Featured Images Credits: Football Association of Singapore
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