Late goal mars Lions’ 2-1 win against Guam in World Cup qualifier
SINGAPORE - For 89 minutes, as the Lions held a 2-0 advantage in Thursday’s World Cup first-round qualifier against Guam, they looked assured, confident of their display and could have patted themselves on the back for a job well done.
The fans had responded as well, full of voice in the stands.
And then in the 90th minute, the whole narrative was wiped out along with the Lions’ clean sheet when Guam captain Jason Cunliffe pulled a goal back from a free kick just outside the box.
First it was silence, and then boos rang out – aimed at Guam players – as the scoreboard read Lions 2 Guam 1. Party spoilers.
For most parts of the evening, it looked like Takayuki Nishigaya and his Lions had played the perfect game and they were barely troubled.
Countless chances were created but only two were put away. And this is a result that could come back to haunt them in five days when the Lions will play Guam in the return leg next Tuesday in Dededo.
“Conceding that goal at the end was unacceptable and we need to regroup and refocus for the second leg” said Lions defender Jacob Mahler, who scored the second goal.
Mahler added: “It’s never nice to be in control of the game and then concede a sloppy goal. We were in control and dominated the game and we could have scored more goals. But that’s football for you. You got to keep your focus for 90 minutes and a slip in concentration can always cause this type of thing.”
Guam coach Ross Awa was all smiles after the match.
He said: “We made some changes for the second half... and it definitely improved in our favour. We got a goal and that’s a positive for us going to our home.”
When asked about their mindset for the second leg, Awa responded: “In front of our home crowd, this is where our boys really perform.”
The slender win came in front of 10,355 fans which included 1,000 Team Nila volunteers and President Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who went on the pitch before kick-off to greet players from both sides.
Granted the performance from the 157th ranked Lions came against a side six places off the bottom out of 207 teams in the Fifa rankings, and above only Sri Lanka in the Asian Football Confederation’s rankings, it was one that has been few and far between under Japanese tactician Nishigaya, who got his seventh win as Lions boss in his 18th match in charge.
From the kick-off, the Lions – lined up in a 3-5-2 formation – were determined to make the most of the vocal backing and a pristine looking pitch.
The Lions came close to scoring at least five times inside the opening half hour with the team’s frontman Shawal Anuar’s profligacy the only black mark in the early exchanges.
But if it was not the forward’s day, it was definitely the occasion for the defenders to show their worth.
In the 35th minute, the Lions got the opener in stunning fashion through Christopher van Huizen’s superb strike from outside the box.
The Lion City Sailors fullback brought down a searching ball from inside his own half by centre back Lionel Tan, beat a defender before finding the back of the net with aplomb.
Six minutes later, it was another defender, Mahler, who thumped a loose ball into the net after Guam failed to clear their lines from a corner.
Apart from a 27th minute save from Hassan Sunny, who earned his 108th cap, the Lions were not frazzled. Until the 39-year-old Cunliffe stuck a dagger.
Earlier, the fans would have also been delighted to see Ilhan Fandi return to action as the 20-year-old KMSK Deinze striker came on as a substitute in the 60th minute. His last appearance was on Dec 30 against Vietnam, when he suffered a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
The night could have been different but the Lions will still be thankful for the three points. But the air of disappointment inside the Stadium was palpable even as fans cheered the win.
Singapore will now need to ensure the late goal does not keep them away from a place in Round 2’s Group C with South Korea, China and Thailand.