Singapore’s hopes of qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time are now hanging by the slimmest of threads after the Republic was outclassed 1-3 by Thailand at the National Stadium tonight.
Singapore had entered the match a point and a place ahead of the Thais, but now find themselves in third spot in four-team Group E and two points behind Thailand after tonight’s dismal display.
Only the top two teams from the groups qualify for the Asian Cup.
Thailand’s win now pushes them to the top of the group with five points, one more than Iran, who will play Jordan later tonight.
The Thais, coached by former Manchester United skipper Bryan Robson, had entered tonight’s match with two points after two scoreless draws.
But a superb fluid performance, filled with movement and attacking football, saw them running Singapore ragged and taking a 3-0 lead before the Lions netted a consolation goal late in the game.
Singapore fell 0-1 as early as the 12th minute after striker Noh Alam Shah was judged to have handled the ball in the Singapore goal area.
Former Tampines Rovers striker Sutee Suksomkit confidently lashed the spot-kick home and the resulting goal virtually changed the complexion of the game.
Forced to chase the game, the Lions were often caught on the counter-attack by the fleet-footed Thais.
To make matters worse, the Singapore defence, led by Baihakki Khaizan, one of four Singapore players now plying their trade in the Indonesia Super League, had a poor day at the office.
Nor did it help matters that striker-in-chief Alam Shah, another one of Singapore’s four Indonesia Super League-based players, was largely invisible last night.
No surprises then that he was taken off minutes after the break and replaced by Khairul Amri who, to his credit, injected some badly-needed life, pace and urgency into the Singapore attack.
Although the Thais dominated the match, with midfield livewire Datsakorn Thonglao in wonderful distribution form, they failed to convert several more chances before and after the break.
However, former SAFFC striker Therdsak Chaiman made amends in the 75th minute when he ran in unmarked to volley home a cross past Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny.
The local fans in the 20,000-strong crowd had a sinking feeling by then. But the nightmare at Kallang didn’t end there.
Baihakki then summed up the Lions’ day when he played Sutee onside in the 81st minute and the winger made no mistake as he slotted past the onrushing Hassan.
Singapore scored a consolation goal after Amri was tripped by a Thai defender on the edge of the box in the 84th minute. Midfielder Mustafic Fahrudin scored but it was too late for Singapore to stage a revival.
As such, the Thais’ time-wasting tactics after that were pretty needless.
Singapore will now travel to Bangkok needing nothing less than a win over the Thais to keep their Asian Cup hopes alive.
But judging from tonight’s display, which will also have dealt them a huge psychological blow, the Lions would do well to hold the in-form Thais to a draw.
Yours in sport
Singapore Sports Fan