National Teams – Age-group ● Feb 17, 2022

Valiant Singapore go down to Thailand in AFF U23 Championship 2022 opener


Ilhan Fandi scores the opening goal on 16 February 2022


PHNOM PENH, 16 FEBRUARY 2022 – Singapore Men’s Under-23 National Team kicked off their ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) U23 Championship 2022 Group C campaign with a 3-1 loss against Thailand at the Prince Stadium on Wednesday evening. 


Ilhan Fandi opened the scoring in the 16th minute but the Thais equalised on the stroke of half-time. They added two more goals in quick succession early in the second half and saw out the game in front of more than 500 fans. 


Despite the loss, Head Coach Nazri Nasir was pleased with the boys’ performance. They showed their character and desire in wanting to play,” he said. “I am very proud. Given the circumstances we are going through, they fought very hard.”


Midfielder Jared Gallagher added: “Everyone gave their all to ensure we were not only able to play the game, but also get a good result. Ultimately, we fell short but I think there were many positives that we can bring into our next match against Vietnam.”


A Covid-19 outbreak in the squad disrupted Coach Nazri’s plans in the days leading up to the match. He was left with only four outfield players and two goalkeepers on the bench, while Thailand had the maximum of 12 substitutes to choose from. Three Singapore players – Raoul Suhaimi, Farhan Zulkifli and Zamani Zamri – had tested positive for Covid-19 since arriving in Cambodia and were moved to a local quarantine facility to recover. Five others, including captain Jacob Mahler, had also shown signs of fever and were unwell. This meant that the team was unable to train on Tuesday, the eve of the match.


Ilhan Fandi celebrates after scoring against Thailand on 16 February 2022


Despite being shorthanded and underprepared, Coach Nazri stuck to his philosophy and set the team up in a 4-3-3 formation to face the Thais. The idea was to press them from the front to force mistakes and this aggression led to Ryhan Stewart winning a free-kick down the right flank, which led to the opening goal. 


Although Shah Shahiran’s delivery was dealt with, Gallagher picked up the loose ball and swung it back into the box from deep on the right, where Ilhan Fandi rose highest to head home the first goal of the game.


Ilhan was inches away from scoring his second in the 32nd minute but his curler crashed against the crossbar. The Thais took advantage of the let-off and playmaker Teerasak Poeiphimai equalised from Kroekphon Arbram’s cutback in the 45th minute. 


Having already lost Danish Irfan in the eighth minute, Singapore was dealt another blow when centre-back Jordan Emaviwe could not carry on. This forced Coach Nazri to bring on Syed Akmal and reshuffle to a back five. It was a proud moment for Syed, who joined fellow U23 debutants Danish Qayyum and Nicky Melvin Singh on the pitch. 


Danish Qayyum against Thailand on 16 February 2022


Due to the changes and the lack of match fitness, the boys could not match the intensity displayed in the first half and this was capitalised on by the Thais. Niphitphon Wongpanya scored in the 57th minute and five minutes later, Teerasak controlled a pinpoint ball from Anusak Jaiphet to score his second of the game. 


But instead of throwing in the towel, the boys sought to narrow the deficit and came close thrice in the dying minutes. Danish Qayyum struck the crossbar and had a shot saved while another debutant, Abdul Rasaq – who replaced Ilhan in the 67th minute – skewed wide in a one-on-one situation. 


The immediate focus now shifts to preparing for the next game against Vietnam on Saturday. Should Singapore win, they still stand a chance to qualify for the semi-finals as the best-placed runner-up. Coach Nazri said: “We don’t want to give up. We want to be ready for Vietnam.”


Singapore: Ridhwan Fikri (GK), Ryhan Stewart, Jacob Mahler (C), Jordan Emaviwe (Syed Akmal 46′), Danish Irfan (Ryaan Sanizal 8′), Jared Gallagher, Shah Shahiran, Saifullah Akbar, Nicky Melvin Singh (Glenn Kweh 75′), Danish Qayyum, Ilhan Fandi (Abdul Rasaq 67′).
Unused subs: Riki Kimura (GK), Umayr Sujuandy (GK).


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