Second-string Lions draw 1-1 with Hong Kong in first outing since AFF C’ship failure
With a goal at each end, defender Lionel Tan had an unforgettable Lions debut as an under-strength Singapore held Hong Kong to a 1-1 draw at the sold out Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday.
This was the Lions’ first match since their abysmal 4-1 defeat by Causeway rivals Malaysia in January that eliminated them from the AFF Championships.
National coach Takayuki Nishigaya had demanded a response, urging his players to raise their intensity of play and adopt a winning and professional mentality.
But the visitors initially found it hard to settle down, and were not helped by a long injury list that includes key players such as Shahdan Sulaiman, Song Ui-young, and brothers Irfan, Ikhsan and Ilhan Fandi.
Skipper Hariss Harun was allowed to sit out to prepare for an exam, while Safuwan Baharudin and Shawal Anuar were not called up.
Their absence meant the overall quality of play took a hit as Singapore initially looked to soak and strike with an unfamiliar backline that featured M. Anumanthan, Tan, and fellow debutant Irfan Najeeb, with Hafiz Nor on the right and Glenn Kweh looking uncomfortable at left-back.
While they lacked ideas going forward in this 5-4-1 formation, they protected their goal zealously and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was forced into a save just once in the opening exchanges to prevent Tsui Wang Kit’s cross from being turned in by Anumanthan.
Against the run of play, world No. 160 Singapore opened the scoring from a well-worked set-piece in the 20th minute.
Zulfahmi Arifin delayed his delivery to call for Taufik Suparno to make a late run at the near post, and his pinpoint pass was matched by Taufik’s clever flick for Tan to sweep the ball in.
They could have doubled their lead three minutes later, but Sahil Suhaimi latched on to a long punt only to shoot straight at former Brazil Under-17 goalkeeper Paulo Cesar, one of four foreign-born Hong Kong players to feature in the match.
The hosts’ pressure down the flanks finally paid off in the 43rd minute when China-born midfielder Ju Yingzhi’s beat Kweh on the right to whip in a cross that was diverted past Hassan by Tan.
In-form attackers Faris Ramli and Daniel Goh added thrust when they were introduced in the second half, with the Balestier winger almost notching an assist on his debut when he beat Wong Tsz Ho on the right to cross for Sahil, who headed into the side netting on the hour mark.
But Singapore still required Hassan to make two fine stops to deny Wong Wai and Philip Chan for an encouraging draw against a side ranked 14 places above them, before they visit 182nd-ranked Macau on Sunday.