National Teams – Age-group ● Oct 31, 2021

Singapore bow out of AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers


Saifullah Akbar shields the ball, 31 October 2021. 


SINGAPORE, 31 OCTOBER 2021 – A 5-1 defeat at the hands of defending champions Korea Republic on Sunday night meant Singapore were unable to finish amongst the four best runners-up from the 11 groups to qualify for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Asian Cup Uzbekistan 2022™.


With a number of players from the squad that finished runners-up at the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, the Koreans proved too strong for the Singaporeans as they established a five-goal lead within 53 minutes.


While it was a harsh footballing lesson, there were positives for Singapore as they put up a strong second-half display and became the only side in Group H to breach the Koreans’ goal.


That came via a peach of a goal from left-back Nur Adam Abdullah, who strode forward to curl home a stunning effort in off the post from 25 yards to give the home fans in the 993-strong crowd something to cheer about.


Jacob Mahler on the ball, 31 October 2021


Singapore U22 Head Coach Nazri Nasir believes his boys have to learn from the experience against a high-quality opponent.


“I am so proud of what the boys have done, especially in the second half – we played to our strengths and showed that we are able to compete with them in some instances,” the 50-year-old said.


“Obviously, Korea’s level of football is a totally different level. In the first half, we tried to cut out their attack but were perhaps one or two steps slower and that resulted in the goals conceded.


“We take the three games as an opportunity to learn. Now the boys know what the difference is between ASEAN level and Asian level – it is stark, but they just have to keep working hard to improve and narrow the gap.”


Farhan Zulkifli in action against Korea Republic, 31 October 2021


Singapore had switched to a more compact formation at the start, with Ryaan Sanizal brought in to form a three-man backline alongside captain Jacob Mahler and Jordan Emaviwe.


However, they fell behind just three minutes in with the visitors enjoying a slice of fortune. Cho Sang-jun’s cross took a touch off Kim Chan before flying past a stranded Ridhwan Fikri to get the Koreans off to a flyer.


Hwang Sun-hong’s men doubled their lead in the sixth minute through Cho, who collected Go Jae-hyeon’s through pass before calmly finishing.


Singapore went close to halving the deficit on 14 minutes through a speculative volley by Glenn Kweh, but the effort lacked power to trouble the goalkeeper.


The visitors added two more goals before half-time. A quick free-kick led to the ball ricocheting off Mahler before going over the line on 25 minutes, before tournament top scorer Park Jeong-in converted Choi Jun’s low cross in the 40th minute.


The Koreans made it 5-0 seven minutes after the break, with Choi thumping into an empty net after a Singapore defensive lapse.


But Singapore did not let their heads go down and managed to pull one back in the 57th minute.


Nur Adam Abdullah celebrates after scoring, 31 October 2021


Kweh’s clever flick in midfield set Joel Chew free and the ball was eventually worked to Nur Adam, who collected Saifullah Akbar’s pass before letting fly with his weaker right foot to curl the ball into the top right corner.


For the last half hour, Singapore did well to keep the Koreans at bay with some solid defending that got an appreciative home crowd on their feet upon the final whistle.


Singapore’s tally of four points from three matches were not enough to secure a historic first qualification for the AFC U23 Asian Cup, but the performances throughout have provided a platform for Nazri to build on as they look to gear up for next year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.


“In the three games, we showed very positive and possession-based football,” the former Lions captain said. “We try to build up play, instead of sitting back and wait. That is something I want to continue to see from them going forward.


“Like I said, we take this tournament as a good lesson for us. Hopefully next year we can have more international games, or even play some friendly matches overseas to test ourselves further (should the COVID-19 regulations be loosened).”


Singapore U22s: Ridhwan Fikri (GK), Ryaan Sanizal, Jacob Mahler (C), Jordan Emaviwe (Farhan Zulkifli 46’ (Raoul Suhaimi 86’)), Ryhan Stewart (Jared Gallagher 86’), Harhys Stewart, Shah Shahiran, Nur Adam Abdullah, Saifullah Akbar (Danish Irfan 62’), Rezza Rezky (Joel Chew 46’), Glenn Kweh.
Unused subs: Dylan Pereira (GK), Martyn Mun (GK), Daniel Goh, Zikos Chua, Khairin Nadim, Arshad Shamim, Zamani Zamri.


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