Back to drawing board for Lions Singapore writer Kenneth Tan tries to pick out the bones from last night's crushing defeat to Indonesia.
By Kenneth Tan

I am sure this defeat hurts for everyone associated with Singapore football.

The feelings most fans out there will experience as they drag their feet to work today will certainly be worlds apart from the triumphant joy on Monday after the dream opener against Malaysia.

And I believe the players themselves were feeling a hundred times worse than us, as the rain poured down on the Bukit Jalil Stadium last night.

It was a great chance to build on that impressive start; it was a great chance to cement our spot in the semi-finals. A win would have lifted the whole nation.

But we blew it, and defeat was made more disappointing owing to the fact that we have never lost to Indonesia in the history of the competition in our previous six encounters.

However, just like how we should not have rushed to claim ourselves as tournament favorites after thrashing Malaysia, we should not go into panic mode after this defeat either.

Too many free kicks given away

In the first half, it was the speedy Oktovanius Maniani and the experienced Elie Aiboy; in the second half there was wonderkid Andik Vermansyah and the lethal Bambang Pamungkas. In any case, we had trouble dealing with some of their fleet-footed attackers throughout the game.

Perhaps it was inexperience that ultimately showed in Irwan Shah's game. Having just been booked two minutes earlier, he flew in again on Andik with a similar challenge that resulted in his explusion.

Those freekicks were snuffed out, but ultimately the source of the defeat came after we conceded one freekick too many.

Shi Jiayi's shove on Andik ultimately proved costly as the latter hammered the nail - whether intended or not - into Singapore's coffin with a peach of a delivery that fooled Izwan Mahbud in goal and dipped into the net.

Set-piece threats

It is worthy to note that even without set-piece specialist Shaiful Esah, we are still quite capable of producing chances from deadballs, especially with the expertise of Shi Jiayi and Shahdan Sulaiman.

That was especially evident in the first half, when we peppered the Indonesian goal - Safuwan Baharudin flashed a volley wide from Shahdan's outswinging corner, and the latter then fired a fierce drive that forced a great save from Indonesia keeper Wahyu Tri Nugroho after being teed up by Shi in a good training ground move.

Shahdan lashed another volley just over the top from a half-cleared Shi freekick, before Baihakki Khaizan headed just over on the stroke of half-time from Shahdan's freekick.

Having said that, we were not as fluent when the ball was played on the ground. Perhaps it was the soggy pitch which did not allow us to play the neat and simple passes from midfield to attack, but we certainly have to improve on the penetration from open play.

Unlike the first game, Khairul Amri was lined up on the right side of attack, which rather limited his impact on the game while captain Shahril Ishak looked subdued upfront and was unable to produce his heroics from the last game.

We played better (ironically) when we went down

It was a strange game indeed. After a good first half, we somehow lost our way in the opening 15 minutes of the second until Irwan's sending-off.

Reduced to 10 men with more than 20 minutes to go, somehow or another - be it Raddy's tactics or the  players' motivation - we contrived to piece things together.

Daniel Bennett was pushed to left-back to cover for Irwan's absence, Shi dropped back to fill in for him at right-back, while Qiu Li was brought on as the focal point of the attack with Aleksandar Duric and Shahril supporting from both flanks.

That tactic worked to a treat. At the back, we limited them to a few scruffy chances and ambitious long shots on goal while upfront, the physical presence and hold-up play of Qiu was showing.

Firstly, there was the smart exchange of passes with Shi on the flank before the latter produced a peach of a cross that Duric nodded against the bar; secondly, some nifty footwork earned him a freekick which he curled over the defensive wall, although unfortunately it was well-gathered by the goalkeeper.

There was a strong belief oozing from the Lions camp that they could grab a shock win, before the Andik masterpiece.

What now?

As the Lions lick the wounds from this defeat, they will do well to remember that winners always show 'bounce-back-ceability'.

There are perfect examples from this AFF Suzuki Cup - there are no teams with zero points after two games. After opening day defeats, Philippines shocked Vietnam in their second group game to claim all three points while Malaysia trounced Laos yesterday to pull level on points with the Lions. 

I hope the 'wounded animal' in our Lions will show on Saturday night when we take on the Laotians in our final group match.

Come on you Lions!