AFF Championship: Brave Lions lose Ilhan but gain valuable point from Vietnam draw

SINGAPORE – It is advantage to the Lions as they need only a draw against Malaysia at Bukit Jalil on Tuesday to progress to the AFF Championship semi-finals, after they held title favourites Vietnam to a 0-0 draw at Jalan Besar on Friday.

But they will have to do so with another blow to their strikeforce after Ilhan Fandi limped off injured in the 45th minute.

Attempting to latch onto Hariss Harun’s 38th-minute long ball, the 20-year-old crumpled in the Vietnam box clutching his left thigh. He punched the artificial turf before trying to play on, before going down again just before half time.

Defiantly, he refused to be carried off on a stretcher but ruefully shook his head as his campaign looks to be over. This comes after his brother and fellow national striker Ikhsan Fandi and midfielder Adam Swandi also sustained serious knee injuries during the 3-1 friendly win over Maldives on Dec 17.

Ilhan’s fighting spirit, however, rubbed off on his teammates as they held out for a crucial point against opponents whom they have now not beaten in their last 14 matches since their 1-0 in the 1998 final.

As expected, even after making eight changes from the starting XI that beat Malaysia on Tuesday, world No. 96 Vietnam dominated possession and controlled most of the proceedings.
However, the 160th-ranked Lions, who made four changes themselves, kept their defensive shape well, putting 10 men behind the ball when necessary, as they restricted the visitors to long-range shots which Hassan Sunny could deal with.

Singapore were not better in their attacks, feeding on scraps as they were not quick enough to transit from being on the back foot.

Two counterattacks were all they had to show for in the first half, with left wingback Christopher van Huizen’s passes not finished off by Ilhan on both occasions.

Following Ilhan’s injury, Singapore coach Takayuki Nishigaya decided to play out the last few minutes of the first half with 10 men and brought on Shawal Anuar and Song Ui-young for Ilhan and Faris Ramli in the second half.

While their energy brought about some excitement for the 5,434 supporters, it reverted to one-way traffic later in the match.

While Hariss Harun, Irfan Fandi and Shakir Hamzah marshalled the defence well, and the Lions were disciplined enough to avoid any suspension for the Causeway Derby, they also rode their luck as Nguyen Hoang Duc’s long shot cannoned off the post in the 84th minute.

With the point, Vietnam remain top of Group B with seven points from three games, ahead of Singapore on goal difference, while Malaysia are a point back. The top two will qualify for the two-legged semi-finals.


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