Sunday, December 5, 2010

AFF Suzuki Cup Group B: Singapore 2 Myanmar 1

Singapore lived to fight another day in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, thanks to another dramatic late goal - in their favour this time.

The man of the moment was half-time substitute Agu Casmir who fed off an Aleksandar Duric feed to volley home inside the box with the score delicately balanced at 1-1.

This was scant reward for their second-half performance that saw them bombard the Myanmarese goal at will after an abject first 45 minutes.

The less said about the opening half, the better. Making three changes from the eleven that faced the Philippines back on Thursday, none looked the part as the white shirts took to them at will.

It only took Myanmar just 12 minutes to send Singapore on the verge of elimination when a Aye San cutting pass on the right, with a Yan Paing dummy, found Muang Lwin Khin inside the box.

Muang exposed the huge gaps in the Singapore defence to smash home past Hassan Sunny.

Singapore's response after the early setback left so much to be desired, making viewers back home wonder if they were really bothered or interested to play for the country and in this tournament.

Duric and Noh Alam Shah had another ineffective first 45 minutes, with the latter proving to be very blunt and giving no problems to the Myanmar defenders.

Long balls and passes often went astray as the central midfield partnership of Fahrudin Mustafic and Isa Halim sat either too deep or too far away to either assist the attack or anchor the fragile back four.

Juma'at Jantan was again very wasteful in possession in the first half, possibly justifying his club coach's decision to bench him for prolonged parts of the 2010 domestic season.

Precious Emuejeraye, starting in place of the injured Daniel Bennett, was Precious Emuejeraye, often caught out on the turn and speed of the white shirts. His defensive partner Baihakki Khaizan was equally guilty in allowing Myanmar to run at them at will.

Shahril Ishak could do nothing as very little came his way and Ridhuan Muhammad played as though Singapore were keeping possession in the corner flag after going 5-0 up (when the reality was the Lions trailing by 1-0).

Cue perhaps one of the strongest talking-tos inside the dressing room by Singapore coach Radjoko Avramovic and the double substitution - Casmir and Khairul Amri - seemed to rejuvenate the team in the second half.

Often laying seige at Thiha Si Thu's goal, the Lions were eventually rewarded for their attacking pressure when Casmir drew the goalkeeper out and laid the simplest of finishes for Duric to tap into an empty net just after the hour.

The further introduction of Shahdan Sulaiman allowed the three-time Asean champions to play the football they are capable of. Skipper Shahril Ishak stepped up and created many opportunities that had the fast-tiring opponents in sixes and sevens inside their own area.

Still, the final decision at the other end left much to be desired as Thiha did not really have to sweat until the last 15 minutes. The defence remained very fragile, although Juma'at improved in his possession and Baihakki proving to be a better forward than defender. Gaps remained open and stronger opponents would have ensured that the temporary joy be short-lived.

It could still have been all over for Singapore had Yan's free strike inside the box not hit the woodwork five minutes after the equaliser. The ball crashed out and the red shirts continued to live to fight for another day with Agu's winning goal - and eliminate Myanmar from the cup at the group stage.

Four points in the bag after two games on paper seemed satisfactory, but the game of two halves cleared showed the very best and utmost worst of the Lions in this tournament.

The eleven that stayed on the pitch at the final whistle, barring Noh Rahman who is suspended for their final group game after picking up his second yellow card of the campaign, should start against Vietnam on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding our continuing defensive vulnerabilities and deficiencies, this was the line-up that probably finally convinced Avramovic that it should be starting eleven for the remainder of the Suzuki Cup, however far they would go.

Creative passing and attacking football from Shahril and Shahdan, and hard running and holding against a sea of defenders by strikers Duric and Casmir would give the Lions great foundations in midfield and attack, and compensate for the defensive frailities in the back four.

Whether they would be able to settle their private differences at training and inside the hotel rooms and give a stronger performance than what Singaporeans saw in the second half would provide a glimmer of hope for our regional title aspirations as the tournament progresses.

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