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Singapore Football

Singapore fight back to draw 2-2 with China

Tsutomu Ogura would not have been wrong to describe his bow as Lions coach as one that merited congratulating.

After all, his charges produced a spirited comeback as they rallied from 2-0 down at half-time to draw 2-2 with China at the National Stadium on March 21.

Their first point in their 2026 World Cup Asian qualifying campaign saw the Singapore fans among the 28,414 crowd leaving the ground waving national flags in jubilation.

And yet, Ogura – who entered the post-match press conference looking sombre – was not in a celebratory mood after overseeing the 156th-ranked Singapore’s draw with their world No. 88 rivals, who had won 6-1 in their last encounter in a 2013 friendly in Tianjin.

The Japanese, 57, said: “Somebody told me (after the match), ‘congratulations’. I asked why? I am not satisfied. I told the players this also.

“Please don’t (tell me) congratulations. If we got another goal, that is congratulations.

“Of course, China is a good team and it was difficult but we had chances to win. In the last five to 10 minutes, we could have won.”

In his first match in charge, Ogura was initially served a stark reminder of the challenges ahead but, by full time, he saw a roaring display that earned firm backing from the fans.

Ogura earned his spurs with his changes too, with both goals coming via substitutes – Faris Ramli and Jacob Mahler.

In the dying minutes, it looked like a case of what might have been as Singapore were denied a clear penalty as Zhu Chenjie tugged Safuwan Baharudin back in the box.

While Ogura’s predecessor Takayuki Nishigaya had supporters leaving even before the final whistle, fans were on their feet in the eight minutes of added time, willing Singapore to find the winner.

Moments earlier, the fans’ fervour had been stoked by Mahler’s 81st-minute equaliser. The defender pounced on a loose ball in the box to make it 2-2 and spark wild celebrations from the crowd.

Ogura, who was installed as the Lions’ third consecutive Japanese coach on Feb 1, had promised a team defined by intensity and quick attacking transitions.

While that was not yet on display, the Lions produced a never-say-die spirit which was last on show in the Asean Football Federation Championship semi-final, second leg against Indonesia in 2021. Then, an eight-man Singapore put up a brave performance only to lose 4-2 in extra time.

Ogura’s Lions had to overcome a tentative start, though.

China forward Wu Lei profited from naive defending in the 10th minute to head home unchallenged after the Lions failed to close down Wang Shangyuan, who delivered a well-placed cross.

In the 31st minute, Wu was denied a second from the penalty spot, which was awarded after the former Espanyol striker’s shot hit Nazrul Nazari’s arm. But Hassan Sunny dived to his right to thwart the Chinese striker’s tame effort.

Wu, however, made amends in first-half added time. Captain Hariss Harun’s rushed clearance in the box fell to Xie Pengfei, whose saved shot fell to Wu to hand the visitors a 2-0 lead to the delight of some 3,000 Chinese fans.

Ogura rang the changes after half-time, handing Harhys Stewart his first cap and throwing on Faris Ramli on the left wing, as M. Anumanthan and Zulqarnaen Suzliman made way.

The changes worked a treat.

In the 53rd minute, Lionel Tan’s raking pass from inside his own half found Faris.

Faris produced an exquisite piece of control on the move before unleashing a surprise shot that left goalkeeper Yan Junling stunned and had the Singapore crowd on their feet.

Fellow substitute Mahler then brought the house down with the equaliser in the late stages.

China’s new coach Branko Ivankovic, who was also handling his first match, rued his team’s late collapse.

He said: “I expected a tough and hard game against our opponents. We had a good situation in the first half (but) I told the players that 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline.

“We prepared ourselves to take three points but we have one.”

In Group C’s other match, leaders South Korea were surprisingly held 1-1 by Thailand at the Seoul World Cup Stadium. After three matches, the Thais are second with four points, three behind the Koreans.

Singapore, who had earlier suffered 5-0 and 3-1 defeats by South Korea and Thailand respectively, will face China again on March 26 at the Tianjin Olympic Centre Stadium.

The valiant comeback at Kallang has prompted Ryhan Stewart to say: “We are going to go for the three points in China.

“Today I felt that we could have kept going and got the three points too. But that’s the way the game is and we’ve got to keep going.”

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