National Team - Lions ● Nov 20, 2019
Hafiz Nor stunner seals Lions’ win against Yemen
MUHARRAQ, 19 NOVEMBER 2019 – A stirring away display on Tuesday evening in Bahrain saw the Lions defeat Yemen 2-1 in their FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup 2023 Preliminary Joint Qualification Round 2 campaign.
Goals from Ikhsan Fandi and Hafiz Nor sealed Singapore’s second Group D victory and saw them move up to third – two points behind leaders Uzbekistan – with three games left.
Tatsuma Yoshida’s charges overcame a nervy start at the Sheikh Ali bin Mohammed Al Khalifa Stadium to record their first competitive away victory in 13 games since beating Cambodia 4-0 in World Cup qualifying in June 2015.
“I am really happy to get this good result for the Singapore fans back home,” a delighted Tatsuma said after the game. “We said before the match that it was a must-win and it is important that we got it. The result may be surprising for some people, but it is not a surprise for me. The boys have shown a great attitude and I trust them. We showed that we could win even without some important players (Faris Ramli, Shakir Hamzah, Shawal Anuar); the others stepped up and proved themselves.”
It was Ikhsan who broke the deadlock and scored the Lions’ first competitive away goal in six games – elder brother Irfan did so in October 2017 against Turkmenistan – on 19 minutes. Peeling away from his marker, the 20-year-old met Shahdan Sulaiman’s corner with a neat volley from 14 yards to net his eighth goal in 18 caps.
That was a turning point for the Lions, who had been under the cosh from the first whistle on a ground made slick by a pre-game drizzle. Izwan Mahbud was called into action after just two minutes to tip over Ahmed Maher’s shot, before having to save from Ahmed Al-Sarori and Ahmed Abdul Wahid. The pick of the bunch was a stunning fingertip save on 33 minutes off a fierce effort that was destined for the top right corner.
Nazrul Nazari, Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin and Hariss Harun all made important defensive challenges as well, while at the other end Ikhsan should have had a quick-fire double as he headed Shahdan’s cross just over barely a minute after scoring his first.
The Lions then gained some breathing space seven minutes into the second half thanks to Hafiz, who bagged his first international goal in swashbuckling style. Having collected Hariss’ pass, the 31-year-old cut in from the left and glided past an opponent before curling a beautiful strike from 25 yards off the right post and in.
“I am very happy to get my first international goal and it was one to remember!” he beamed. “When I got the ball, the only thing in my mind was to beat the player and go for a shot; that was what Coach told me to do in training and I am happy I did it!”
He added: “We did pretty well and followed the game-plan; we played as a team and won as a team. Playing against Middle Eastern opposition is not easy, but we achieved the victory and everyone is very happy about it.”
Buoyed by the two-goal advantage, the Lions looked comfortable and were rarely troubled defensively until the 85th minute, when a hopeful punt somehow found Nasser Al-Gahwashi, who rounded Izwan and reduced arrears.
That made for a nervy finish, particularly with four minutes of added time, but the Lions held out for the win against opposition ranked 18 places above them – and a first away win against a Middle Eastern nation since beating Lebanon 2-1 in 2008.
Tatsuma believes that there is more to come from the team and stressed the importance of working even harder, saying: “We are still improving and we have to try to make another step up. We must always try to win no matter where we play and we have to keep going.”
Photos courtesy of Bahrain FA
Singapore: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Irfan Fandi, Safuwan Baharudin, Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Hariss Harun (C), Yasir Hanapi (Hami Syahin 87’), Hazzuwan Halim (Khairul Nizam 53’), Hafiz Nor (Iqram Rifqi 75’), Ikhsan Fandi.
Unused subs: Adib Nur Hakim (GK), Hassan Sunny (GK), Sahil Suhaimi, Darren Teh, Baihakki Khaizan, Amirul Adli, Fareez Farhan, Gabriel Quak.