Singapore downed 5-0 by South Korea in World Cup qualifier
With the score at 0-0 on the brink of half-time, Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya and his charges could have gone into the break giving one another a pat on the back, and regroup for another half of trying to hold South Korea at bay.
But a lapse in concentration put paid to that as a 44th-minute goal from South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung unlocked the floodgates that saw the Lions go on to suffer a 5-0 loss against the Asian giants at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on Thursday.
Singapore, 131 places below the 24th-ranked South Korea in the world rankings, showed plenty of spirit in the opening period, and limited the hosts to minimal chances.
But the sheer quality of their opponents ultimately came to the fore in their first Group C World Cup qualifying match as the hosts racked up second-half strikes from Hwang Hee-chan, South Korea captain Son Heung-min, Hwang Ui-jo and Lee Kang-in.
Nishigaya, who hailed his opponents as being “amazing as a team and as individuals”, said he was “really proud” of his players.
He added: “Our plan was to not concede a goal especially in the first half. But unfortunately we did.”
The Japanese tactician saw the positives, however, saying: “The level of intensity (in the game) was very different compared to our local league so the players will be able to learn a lot from this game.”
If the 6 deg C temperature at kick-off was not cold enough, the Lions would have felt shivers down their spines when the South Korea line-up was announced to the sell-out crowd of 64,381 spectators.
Taegeuk Warriors coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a full-strength team, fielding Son, Lee of Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich’s Kim Min-jae and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Hwang Hee-chan, who has six goals and two assists in 12 matches in this season’s English Premier League.
Klinsmann said his side gave a “very professional performance” and credited the first goal for “unlocking” the game.
He said: “I told the (Singapore) coach after the game how they played tactically and defensively in the first half was outstanding. Also physically, they didn’t back off, they were in there, they gave… 100 per cent. It was impressive.”
Nishigaya made five changes to the starting line-up that clinched a 1-0 win over Guam in the second leg of the first-round qualifier on Oct 17. In defence, Irfan Fandi was back after missing the last eight matches for the Lions, while stalwart Safuwan Baharudin made his first appearance for the national team since June 2022 to earn his 109th cap.
The Lions lined up in a narrow 5-4-1 formation with Shah Shahiran and Song Ui-young deployed in wide midfield roles but the duo were asked to tuck in from the flanks when out of possession. What resulted was plenty of hustling and harrying while the Koreans dominated possession.
But when Singapore got a hold of the ball, there was no clear plan to keep it. As the match wore on, they were no match for the fitter and more purposeful Koreans.
The lack of video assistant referee (VAR) also meant that luck shined on both sides. In the 15th minute, Safuwan was hit in the face by a stray arm from Lee Jae-sung that went unpunished. But the Lions also benefited, when Cho looked to have scored in the 23rd minute only for the assistant referee to raise his flag.
Replays showed that the offside call was a wrong decision.
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny – who earned his 110th cap – was also in top form and thwarted the Koreans until they made the 44th-minute breakthrough as Lee’s cross from the right flank was expertly finished at the back post by Cho.
Cho then turned provider four minutes after the restart as he lofted in a cross for Hwang Hee-chan to head in.
Son grabbed the highlight of the match in the 63rd minute as the Tottenham Hotspur skipper produced a howitzer that curled away from Hassan and into the net.
In the 67th minute, Lions midfielder Song brought down Son in the box and Norwich City striker Hwang Ui-jo put away the penalty.
PSG’s Lee then put the icing on the cake in the 85th minute.
Singapore will next host Thailand at the National Stadium next Tuesday, while South Korea will face China in Shenzhen. The Thais lost 2-1 to China in Bangkok on Thursday.