Young Lions get first win of football campaign to keep qualification hopes alive
HANOI – The national Under-23 football team kept their faint hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals alive with their first win at the Hanoi SEA Games on Wednesday (May 11).
The 1-0 victory over Cambodia at the Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh sent Singapore to the top of Group B, albeit temporarily. Semi-final qualification is still out of their hands - if Thailand and Malaysia beat both Laos and Cambodia, they will still progress at the Young Lions' expense.
Currently, Singapore have four points from three matches. The rest of the sides in the five-team group, with the exception of Malaysia, have played twice. Malaysia face Laos on Wednesday evening.
The top two teams in the group progress to the semi-finals.
The Young Lions started their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Laos in their opening game before a 5-0 thumping by Thailand on Monday and the pressure was on the team going into the Cambodia match.
A loss would have confirmed a fourth straight group-stage exit at the SEA Games.
Head coach Nazri Nasir made seven changes to the starting XI that faced Thailand, in the hopes of a rejuvenated performance in front of 11,578 spectators that included Speaker of Parliament and Singapore National Olympic Council president Tan Chuan-Jin.
Irfan Najeeb, Jordan Emaviwe, Nicky Melvin Singh, Saifullah Akbar, Jared Gallagher and Glenn Kweh were all handed first starts at these Games while midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin - one of three overaged players in the squad- was ruled out with a knee injury.
And Nazri was rewarded with his side's best performance thus far as Singapore continued their winning run against Cambodia. Since their first match during the 1995 edition of the Games, Singapore have now won all seven encounters.
In the 36th minute, Singapore took the lead for the first time at these Games. It came from a neat build-up play not seen previously at this tournament from the Young Lions.
Shah Shahiran and Saifullah exchanged a neat one-two outside the box before the latter got to the end of Shah's cross to power an emphatic header past Cambodian goalkeeper Hul Kimhuy.
At the other end, captain and custodian Zaiful Nizam produced a stellar save in the 78th minute to deny Sa Ty's volley from inside the box and secure the team's first clean sheet of the Games.
The Young Lions will now gear up for another must-win clash on Saturday with the Malaysians while also praying for results in the other matches to go their way.
Singapore coach Nazri Nasir praised the team, saying: "The boys showed a lot of character today.
"They showed they were hungry to get the result and focused for 90 minutes. I am proud of the players. It was a do-or-die game.
"This game we saw that the players were hungry. They knew what was at stake. The boys followed the instructions and when the chance came, they made it count. The three points are very important for us."