Suzuki Cup: S'pore in unconvincing 2-0 win over Timor-Leste, through to semis
Even before they kicked a ball on Tuesday (Dec 14), the Lions had already qualified for the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-finals after Thailand beat the Philippines 2-1 in the earlier match.
While Thailand and Singapore - who beat Myanmar (3-0) and the Philippines (2-1) - have nine points, the Thais are top of Group A on goal difference. With head-to-head criteria used to rank teams that are level on points, Myanmar and the Philippines - both currently on three points - can no longer overtake the Lions with just one group match remaining.
But Tatsuma Yoshida's men will need to pull up their socks after an unconvincing 2-0 victory against bottom side Timor-Leste on Tuesday to miss out on a chance to leapfrog Thailand to the top of the group.
The hosts had started brightly enough in front of 8,518 fans, dominating possession and opening the scoring after just four minutes as Shawal Anuar, Ikhsan Fandi and Song Ui-young combined to set up Adam Swandi's first international goal on his 12th appearance.
But surprisingly, unlike in previous wins, Singapore could not swiftly find a killer second goal.
Instead, Timor-Leste - the tournament's lowest-ranked side at 194th - came close to an equaliser on several occasions.
Elias Mesquita forced Hassan Sunny to make a smart 11th-minute stop before Yohanes Gusmao and Mouzinho flashed wide in the second half, while Paulo Gali was also a constant menace with his direct runs at the home defence.
Ikhsan blasted against the post in the 52nd minute after a rare penetrative move, before the introduction of Faris Ramli after 67 minutes added some impetus.
The Lions doubled their lead three minutes later when left-back and Man of the Match Shakir Hamzah capitalised after Shahdan Sulaiman's free-kick was not cleared.
Singapore will play Thailand on Saturday where they will need to beat the five-time Asean Football Federation Championship winners to top Group A and potentially avoid defending champions Vietnam in the final four.
If Singapore had meant to fly under the radar ahead of their top-of-the-table clash with Thailand, or the semi-finals, then they succeeded for they were largely underwhelming.
Perhaps it was because Tatsuma Yoshida rested key players Shahdan and Faris, or maybe the Lions did not want to incur unnecessary bookings and injuries - especially after losing forward Gabriel Quak to injury - but they were neither incisive nor decisive.
They did not need to be at their best and they were not. If the target was just to qualify for the semi-finals, Singapore deserve credit for doing so without much fuss.
But if they are harbour ambitions of a record-equalling fifth Asean title, they know they need to vastly improve because big guns Thailand and Vietnam, or even Indonesia and Malaysia, will not be as forgiving.