German coach Bernd Stange led his new team to their first competitive win under his charge with a determined display in their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifier
Singapore triumphed against the odds as they edged Syria 2-1 in their 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying clash on Tuesday night in a memorable win.
Starting with seven SEA Games-eligible players, Lions coach Bernd Stange kept true to his strategy of infusing youth and building a team for the future, even in a game of this magnitude.
Syria may be experiencing difficult times back home, but they were in no mood to take things lightly as they sought to add to their solitary point from two Group A games.
The red shirts were immediately put under pressure by Syria straight from the first whistle, with some last-ditch tackles flying in from the Lions defence in the early minutes.
But it was the home side who had the first shot on target, Hariss Harun weakly heading Zulfahmi Arifin’s deep free-kick at goalkeeper Mosab Balhous after two minutes.
The Syria goalkeeper was left thanking his lucky stars in the 11th minute when he fumbled Safuwan Baharudin’s header across goal to Shahril Ishak, who narrowly failed to head the ball in from a very tight angle.
Four minutes later, the bounce of the pitch worked against Shahril as he was beaten to a lobbed pass from Hariss by Balhous with just the goalkeeper to beat.
The momentum soon swung back to the Syrians though, Hassan Sunny called into action to turn Ahmad Al Douni’s low drive from 20 yards around his right post a minute later.
It was no surprise that Al Douni, top-scorer during Syria’s victorious WAFF Championship campaign last year, was the visitors’ main threat.
Safuwan was forced to intervene with a sliding challenge after the 24-year-old skipped clear in the box in the 20th minute, before Hassan produced a superb block to deny Al Douni in a one-on-one situation near the half hour.
It was the post that bailed Singapore out in the 38th minute when Al Douni cracked one from the edge of the box, with Omar Khribin then blasting into the side netting as the half-time whistle went a minute later.
The deadlock should have been broken two minutes into the second half, a lunging Al Douni inches away from converting Mahmoud Al Mawas’s cross-shot on the right.
It was Singapore who threatened next, Shahril with a failed scissors-kick from Khairul Amri’s cross in the 53rd minute.
Soon after, though, the Lions’ first substitution would go on to result in the opening goal.
Shaiful Esah’s introduction for Shahfiq Ghani meant that he took Hafiz Sujad’s place at left-back, with the latter shifted forward to the wing.
And it was Hafiz who displayed superb composure after capitalising on a slip by right-back Ahmad Al Salih to drive into the area and cut the ball back across the area. With the Syria defence in disarray, Amri had no trouble side-footing it into an open goal to send the crowd wild in the 62nd minute.
Stunned, Syria tried to hit back and Abdul Fattah Al Agha missed a glorious chance when he glanced a header wide from an unmarked position in the 70th minute.
They were undone by another substitution from Singapore coach Bernd Stange 10 minutes later.
Brought on for goal-scorer Amri, Gabriel Quak wasted no time in making his mark. Played through by a delicious pass from Hariss, who had a storming game in midfield all night, Quak brought the ball into the area before curling a composed finish into the bottom left corner.
Substitute Raja Refe showed his younger team-mates how it was done by fizzing in an astute grounder one minute from time, giving Hassan no chance to set up a nervy ending.
Al Douni could have rescued the point in the second minute of injury time, but Hassan came out on top again with yet another fine save at his near post.
The Lions clung on and in the end, their first two goals in competitive action under Stange saw the German notch his first competitive three points, and perhaps herald the start of a new era.