Singapore 1-1 Hong Kong: What went right for Lions

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Singapore warmed up for next week’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Turkmenistan with a 1-1 friendly draw against Hong Kong at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday.

The Lions got off to a nightmare start when Chan Siu Ki broke the deadlock for Hong Kong inside the opening minute, unleashing a dipping half-volley from the edge of the box in off the bar.

However, the hosts fought back strongly in the second half and ultimately made sure they would avoid defeat courtesy of Safuwan Baharudin’s 76th-minute penalty.

There is still plenty of work to be done for Singapore ahead of next Tuesday’s clash, which they desperately need to win after claiming just one point from two games so far in the third round of Asian Cup qualifying.

But what were some of the positives that Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy could take from their draw with Hong Kong?

Lions adapted well to new system after slow start

The 3-4-3/5-2-3 formation seems to be all the rage in football these days, and Sundram proved to be the latest convert from the way he set his side out on Tuesday.

It initially looked to have backfired as the hosts fell behind almost immediately after kickoff, and then struggled to create anything meaningful in the opening 45.

Perhaps it was something said in the dressing room at halftime, or they just needed time to get used something new, but they looked a much better-organised outfit in the second half.

They genuinely threatened the opposition goal on a number of occasions and deservingly got their goal when Shakir Hamzah was brought down inside the box, paving the way for Safuwan to convert.

Steady display from Sundram’s defence

It is no secret that Sundram likes nothing more than a strong defensive showing and his backline deserve credit for not collapsing after their poor start.

Bear in mind that – in Daniel Bennett, Irfan Fandi and Zulfahmi Arifin – his three centre-backs were a 39-year-old veteran, a 20-year-old who just returned from a grueling Southeast Asian (SEA) Games schedule, and a midfield playmaker by trade.

With Bennett providing the experience, Irfan putting in the grunt work and Zulfahmi showing some poise, what appeared a makeshift back three turned out to be rather decent.

They showed they were able to cope with a Hong Kong attack boasting both power and guile, something that will prepare them well for Turkmenistan.

Valuable experience for new Lions

Apart from tinkering with his tactics and trying out new formations, friendlies also always serve the purpose of blooding new players.

It was unfortunate that Emmeric Ong was sent off on his first international cap in the 86th minute, as he took one for the team by committing a last-man foul on Itaparica.

Still, up to that point, he had put in a steady display at right wing-back and did not look out of his depth at all.

Likewise, Ikhsan Fandi – second son of Fandi Ahmad, Singapore’s most famous footballing name – was brought on for his international bow in the 71st minute.

While Ikhsan did not have that much time to make an impact in the attacking third, he drew huge cheers from the crowd when he chased back into his own half and dispossessed an opponent with a crunching tackle.

At the end of the day, it may just have been a friendly with nothing on the line, but such experience could prove crucial for players like Ong and Ikhsan.