The Singapore national football team, which faced criticism for their playing style in the first two matches of the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup, bravely held on for a goalless draw against Group B leaders Vietnam on Friday evening at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
The results put them in second place, levelled by seven points with Vietnam, which have a superior goal difference. Singapore will next face Malaysia, which is currently in third place with six points. The Lions only need to avoid a defeat in their final group match at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium to qualify for the semi-finals.
Singapore opened the campaign with a 3-2 win against Myanmar before they laboured to a 2-0 win over Laos in their second match. But the precious point against Vietnam was not without any sacrifice as they lost another of their key goal-poachers. In the 38th minute, while receiving a long ball from captain Hariss Harun, Ilhan Fandi was seen falling to the ground holding his left thigh and was eventually substituted just before half-time.
Before the tournament, Singapore lost their chief striker Irfan Fandi and midfielder Adam Swandi, both to knee injuries.
Most of the action was concentrated in Singapore’s half as the Vietnamese went on the offensive right from the start, and the hosts kept it tight at the back with the astute defending of Irfan Fandi, who was named as man of the match. The visitors found it hard to penetrate their opponents’ defence, and Singapore has custodian Hassan Sunny to thank for his brilliance on the night.
“This is not the best result because we wanted to win the game, but we did get a point and it is all because of the players’ commitment and the fans, who generated an amazing atmosphere. We want to thank all of them.” said Singapore head coach Takayuki Nishigaya at the post-match press conference.
In the 10th minute, Hassan had to make a double save. Ngyuyen Van Quyet’s long-distance shot was denied by Hassan, and the Singapore goalkeeper had to use his outstretched leg to kick the ball away before Pham Tuan Tai could get to the loose ball. Seventh minutes later, Vu Van Thanh took aim from outside the box, but it went straight to Hassan’s palm.
Singapore did not create much attacking opportunity and only had one shot on target in the match. In the closing stages of the first half, Faris Ramli laid the ball to Christopher van Huizen down the left flank. Van Huizen sent a low cross into the box for the on-rushing Ilhan and Shah Shahiran, but Van Lam was quick to react to it before the ball could reach the two Lions.
The hosts’ only shot on target came three minutes after the break. Harris’ freekick was not dealt with by the Vietnamese defence, and the loose ball was picked up by Shah, whose feeble shot did not pose any danger to Van Lam.
Hassan was the busier of the two goalkeepers as he was called on to action again on several occasions in the second half. In the 65th minute, substitute Nguyen Tien Linh tested Lions’ centurion from long-range.
The Singapore players held their breath in the 77th when Van Thanh found space in the penalty box and drilled the ball across the face of the goal. But fortunately for Singapore, there was no Vietnamese player to connect with the ball.
Another scare came for Singapore in the 84th minute when Nguyen Hoang Duc broke away from his markers and went for a goal from about 30 metres. Thankfully his effort hit the post, much to the relief of the Lions’ bench and head coach Nishigaya.
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