Nazri Nasir apologises to fans as Young Lions on verge of early SEA Games exit
HANOI - Singapore's Under-23 footballers are on the brink of exit from the Hanoi SEA Games after a 2-2 draw with Malaysia on Saturday (May 14).
The Young Lions needed to beat their Causeway rivals in their final group match for an outside chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. But their fate now rests in the hands of Cambodia and Thailand who meet later on Saturday evening.
A win for either side will eliminate the Republic and mark the fourth straight Games where Singapore have suffered a group-stage exit.
Head coach Nazri Nasir said: "To all the fans, I feel sorry for them. I am disappointed that we didn't go through. As a coach, I failed to bring my team to the next stage. So I would like to apologize to all the fans back home.
"Looking at the players we have now, I can say they are improving game by game. We didn't give up. I wont complain about the preparation but it can be better. I went through challenges.
"These boys showed a lot of character. they gave everything they got. I feel sorry for them. We wanted to get to the semi-final, that is our goal. If I am given a chance to lead the team (at the 2023 games), I think we will do better than this."
The Young Lions last reached the knockout rounds at the 2013 Games in Myanmar, ending up with a bronze medal.
Following the draw at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh, Singapore are second with five points but have played all four of their matches.
Malaysia, who confirmed their qualification with the point, are top with seven points after three games. Thailand and Cambodia have three points each from two matches.
Only the top two teams from each group advance into the next stage.
In the latest campaign, the Young Lions started their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Laos before a 5-0 defeat by Thailand. They got their first win with a 1-0 victory over Cambodia on Wednesday.
Prior to the start of the tournament, the Young Lions' route to the semi-finals was seen as a favourable one given that Nazri's charges avoided the two 2019 finalists Vietnam and Indonesia, who are in Group A with the Myanmar, the Philippines and Timor Leste.
The Young Lions put in a creditable performance against Malaysia to follow up the narrow victory over Cambodia but it is the hapless showing in the first two matches that is set to see them being dumped out of the competition.
On Saturday, in front of 22,768 spectators, Nazri's side got off to the worst possible start when they conceded in the fourth minute after a calamity at the back.
Unable to clear under pressure, defender Harhys Stewart was robbed of possession in the box before Malaysian skipper Mukhairi Ajmal Mahadi set up forward Luqman Hakim to score.
But just three minutes later the Young Lions equalised in stunning fashion when Shah Shahiran's shot from 30 yards flew past goalkeeper Azri Ghani.
In the 77th minute, Stewart looked to have redeemed himself when he turned the ball in from close range after a goalmouth scramble.
The goal sparked wild celebrations from the Singapore bench, including head coach Nazri who punched the air in delight.
But the Malaysians regrouped and in the 82nd minute, Faiz Amer Runnizar rose highest to head home from a corner and leave the Republic staring at a likely elimination.