National Team - Lions ● Oct 11, 2019
Lions fall to Saudi Arabia
BURAIDAH, 10 OCTOBER 2019 – Singapore were dealt their first defeat in their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 campaign after a 3-0 loss to Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.
Having drawn 2-2 with Yemen in their Group D opener, the Saudis were eager for victory in their second match and pinned the visiting Lions in their own half from kick-off at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.
Hattan Bahebri’s shot was well blocked by Hariss Harun before he smacked an effort just over after cutting in from the left, while Yahya Al-Shehri curled a free-kick narrowly over from the edge of the box.
Tatsuma Yoshida’s charges did move the ball well at times and tried to hit the hosts on the break, with Ikhsan Fandi unfortunate to stumble while leading a counter-attack. Darren Teh, making his first international start, then combined well with Faris Ramli to release Yasir Hanapi, whose cut-back was blocked.
But the incessant Saudi pressure paid off on 28 minutes when Abdulfattah Asiri played in Abdullellah Al-Malki and then got on the end of the winger’s pass to sweep in from close range.
Asiri had crashed a 25-yard strike off the post just one minute earlier, with the woodwork saving Singapore on three further occasions.
The goal did spark a response from the Lions and Yasir forced Mohammed Al-Owais to repel a fierce strike from a tight angle on 31 minutes, before Hariss’ pot-shot from range was held by the goalkeeper.
Abdullah Al-Hamdan had the opportunity to double his side’s lead a minute before half-time but his penalty was brilliantly saved by Izwan Mahbud, who played a blinder.
The 29-year-old goalkeeper made at least two other top stops, one to deny Bahebri when he was clean through and another to repel Firas Al-Buraikan, while he was also quick off his line to snuff out danger and fielded crosses assuredly.
Izwan was unlucky to concede the second on 61 minutes, having somehow contorted himself to deny Al-Hamdan from point-blank range, only for the 20-year-old to put in the rebound for his first international goal.
The 14,560-strong crowd had a third goal to cheer five minutes later when Al-Hamdan sprang the offside trap and squared for Asiri to tap in his second to seal a comfortable win.
Tatsuma acknowledged afterward that the Green Falcons, ranked 87 places above Singapore by FIFA at 70th, were deserved victors.
“Tonight we tried but Saudi Arabia played very well,” he said. “You saw the difference (in level between the two teams tonight); we wanted to get the ball higher up in attacking positions but we couldn’t. Their concentration was (at a) good level. We tried to aim for (a way to) goal but we couldn’t reach there.”
His counterpart, Hervé Renard, said of Singapore: “Before we scored three goals, the game was not easy… You can see that the team is able to work very well with the coach. I told the (Singapore) coach at the end of the game (that) tactically (they are good as can be seen from) when they used three centre-backs and then two centre-backs (in the later part of the game); they are able to change the system (well). We respect Singapore but of course, the talent of the Saudi players was better today, we had some players with fantastic technique (who made a difference).”
Despite the defeat, Tatsuma was encouraged by the Lions’ never-say-die attitude and urged them to stay positive as they turn their attentions to the fourth qualifier against Uzbekistan at home next Tuesday.
“We must try (again) in the next match; Uzbekistan is also very strong (but it) doesn’t matter, we don’t stop and we keep going,” he said. “The boys should keep their heads up. It’s normal to be disappointed… I know this (sort of) result happens but (we should not) worry… we must try to (get better) step by step, day by day and game by game.”
All photos courtesy of Saudi Arabian Football Federation