Singapore beaten after Syria strike late

Singapore’s hopes of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asia Cup suffered a setback on Tuesday when they lost a second successive match in Group E of the qualifying tournament.

The Lions succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Syria at the National Stadium, in what was their third loss of the campaign and second against the same opponents, after losing 3-0 to Japan last week.

Singapore now hold third position on the table, with one more match against Afghanistan left to play in this phase, but with their destiny largely outside of their control.

However, for just four minutes, during the dying moments of the clash, the hosts were level with Syria and had a glimmer of hope.

Syria dominated the match from the virtually the first whistle and took the lead in the 21st minute when striker Omar Kharbin made the hosts pay for a goalkeeping error.

Izwan Mahbud tried and failed to collect a cross from right wing Mahmoud Almawas and Kharbin was on hand to nod the ball into the gaping net.

The striker almost made the hosts pay for another defensive error ten minutes later; collecting the ball after Singapore defender Baihakki Khaizan had lost possession, but banging his shot into the upright.

Almawas was also involved again shortly before the end of the half; with captain Sanharib Malki firing straight at Mahbud after reaching the right wing’s cross.

Normal service resumed when the second half got underway, and Syria set Mahbud to work again in the 48th minute when Nadim Sabag hit a rasping drive from outside the area that the goalkeeper could only parry away.

The hosts had their first chance in the 51st minute when striker Safuwan Baharudin rose to meet a pin-point cross from debutant winger Christopher van Huizen but headed his shot agonisingly wide.

Just three minutes, any confidence cultivated by that chance evaporated when centreback Madhu Mohana was red-carded for allegedly swinging a punch at goal-scorer Kharbin.

Singapore managed to keep Syria at bay despite going a man down, and thought they had completed one of the most unlikely comebacks of the campaign when they equalized in the 89th minute.

Right back Shakir Hamzah earned a penalty after drawing a handball from Alaa Al Shbbli and Safuwan stepped up to arrow the spot kick past goalkeeper Ibrahim Almeh.

Syria responded as expected; attacking numbers in hopes of restoring their lead. They were rewarded for their persistence in the third minute of stoppage time when Kharbin once again capitalized on a defensive error, lashing a shot into the goal after the home defence failed to clear the ball under immense pressure.