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Aide Iskandar's boys went down with heads held high as they produced a workhorse-like display and gave the junior Reds a close fight in a narrow defeat

By Kenneth Tan

In front of a 4,298-strong crowd, the Singapore Selection side assembled for the NexLions Cup produced a battling display in a narrow 0-1 defeat to the Liverpool U19s in the semi-final last night.

Right from the start, the Singapore boys showed the hunger and desire worthy of senior Lions as they took the game to the visitors.

The strikeforce of Iqbal Hussain and Shahfiq Ghani created all sorts of problems for the Liverpool back-four with their dynamic movement while at the back, Delwinder Singh and Shakir Hamzah showed no signs of being overawed by the occasion.

The first 25 minutes saw Shahfiq involved in two excellent chances, as the 20-year-old had a freekick deflected wide on four minutes after Iqbal was brought down before he saw another shot pushed wide by Liverpool goalkeeper Ryan Fulton.

However, their English counterparts rode their luck and opened the scoring on 28 minutes against the run of play.

A half-cleared Adam Morgan cross fell to Yesil just in front of goal, and the 18-year-old showed his predatory instincts by producing a backheeled finish past a helpless Rudy Khairullah.

Singapore could have levelled matters five minutes into the second half when Fulton scuffed a clearance in front of his penalty area, but M Anumanthan’s opportunistic strike was tipped over by the recovering custodian.

Safirul Sulaiman then thumped a shot over on 58 minutes after a good passage of play involving Nazrul Nazari and Shahfiq.

Coach Aide Iskandar brought on the likes of Samuel Benjamin and Ignatius Ang to inject pace into the attack but hard as they toiled, the Singapore boys found it hard to create openings against a solid Liverpool back-line.

The last 10 minutes showed a disparity in fitness levels, with Liverpool still making plenty of runs while Singapore looked to have run out of steam.

Morgan had one last opportunity as he headed over from Jack Dunn's cross in injury time, but that did not matter as his side ran out winners on the night.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, the 18-year-old gave a glowing assessment of the hosts' battling display.

"The Singapore side did really well [although] we expected that since they're the hosts, and we didn't underestimate them at all," the Liverpool skipper explained.

"But we were really focused and didn't panic after the strong start by Singapore."

Meanwhile, Liverpool U21 coach Alex Inglethorpe said the 'slick' surface on the synthetic Jalan Besar pitch made proceedings hard for his side, while he also singled out Safirul and Nurullah Hussein as the more 'impressive' players.

For Singapore coach Aide, it was a night where he saw his boys stand head-to-head against their more illustrious European counterparts.

"They played to the gameplan, gave 100 percent and rose to the occasion - I'm really proud of all of them," he declared.

"Rudy had a good game in goal considering he has never played at international level before, Del and Shakir marshaled the backline well, Raihan and Anu[manthan] kept things tight in midfield while we have talents like Shahfiq and Iqbal upfront.

"With the chances we had, I thought we probably should have nicked one [goal] but overall I'm happy that they managed to compete against a team with players who have already tasted [English] Premier League action."

His side will take on Manchester United U19s in the third-place playoff and despite the latter's heavy defeat to Sporting Lisbon, the former national skipper is not taking victory for granted.

"Sporting [Lisbon] was a class above the other three teams and they deserved that scoreline," he pointed out.

"That said, this United side is very well-drilled and not easy to break [down] thus we cannot take them lightly as well."