Fandi's Young Lions held 0-0 by Sundram's Laos
Former Singapore coach V. Sundram Moorthy came back to haunt his former charges, as his Laos team held Fandi Ahmad’s Young Lions to a goalless draw in their SEA Games opener on Tuesday night (Nov 26).
With three-time defending champions Thailand, Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup winners Vietnam and the 2017 bronze medallists Indonesia also in the group, Fandi said before the clash at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila that anything less than a win would leave his team with a “mountain to climb”.
And that is exactly the scenario Sundram has created for his former Lions strike partner Fandi in their 13th clash as coaches, and their first in the international arena.
Aside from Faris Ramli’s fifth-minute shot that flew just over from outside the box, the Young Lions offered little threat to the Laos goal for most of the first half.
Even Singapore’s height advantage counted for little as the Young Lions’ numerous set-pieces went to waste.
Singapore’s first shot on target arrived only in the 33rd minute when Shah Shahiran slipped a through-ball into the area for striker Ikhsan Fandi, but Xaysavath Souvanhnasok raced out to smother it.
That seemed to rouse the Young Lions and two minutes later, a right-wing cross from Faris – one of the team’s overaged players – found an unmarked Irfan Fandi, but he blazed his effort well over.
The Young Lions seemed to start the second half with more urgency as Ikhsan got his second presentable chance of the match on 47 minutes.
A Hami Syahin pass found Zulqarnaen Suzliman on the right flank, with his cut-back finding Ikhsan.
But the 20-year-old, who has been in impressive form for the senior national team with eight goals from 18 caps, placed his shot too close to the goalkeeper.
Five minutes later, Laos gave Singapore a scare when Tajeli Salamat misjudged a routine long ball, allowing Bounphachan Bounkong to get off a shot in the box which goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad was equal to.
The Young Lions regained the momentum, though, with Zulqarnaen testing Xaysavath on 55 minutes and Shah sending a powerful shot from outside the box just wide.
However, the Young Lions’ early second-half impetus seemed to fade away in the final third of the match.
But their height advantage ensured they had two more chances before the final whistle, both via Tajeli crosses to Ikhsan – who plys his trade in the Norwegian second-tier with Raufoss IL.
On 65 minutes, the right-back – who was the other overaged player selected by Fandi – sent in a lovely deep cross that found a soaring Ikhsan, but his header went just wide.
Twelve minutes from time, that combination conjured up another opening, which ended up with Ikhsan’s header crashing off the crossbar.
Laos had the chance to grab their first victory against Singapore in nine SEA Games meetings four minutes from time, when a defensive lapse allowed Soukaphone Vongchiengkham to steal in, but his powerful shot blazed just over.
On a night where not much went right for Fandi’s team, perhaps the only consolation they can take is the other four occasions when they were held by Laos at the SEA Games, Singapore went home with bronze medals.