Singapore’s plan to win back the fans after disastrous showings in the previous two campaigns got off to a great start as they beat Indonesia 1-0 at the National Stadium at Kallang on Friday night.
The 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash was settled by a Hariss Harun goal in the first half and the Lions now sit in second spot, behind leaders Thailand who cruised to a 7-0 victory over minnows Timor-Leste.
— FOX Sports Asia (@FOXSportsAsia) November 9, 2018
While the Lions will go into their next game against Philippines in confident mood, Indonesia head coach Bima Sakti will have a lot of thinking to do if he is to get the Garudas into the next round after this disappointing start.
Here are five key points from the game…
Indonesia’s play all about Evan Dimas
The visitors started brightly with a couple of good forays into the Singapore half but things became predictable as the game wore on.
Indonesia wanted one man to dictate the tempo of the game and it was none other than Selangor FA’s Evan Dimas.
Whenever the Indonesian defence got the ball, they waited for the 23-year-old midfielder to drop deep, turn and orchestrate their way forward.
Every free-kick that came their way in the opponent’s half was taken by Evan. Even down to corner-kicks, they looked for their midfield maverick.
This may work against teams who opt to defend and play a counter-attacking game but Singapore’s high-pressing tactics meant that Evan had to go with the ball over the top, which didn’t play to Indonesia’s strengths.
Lions called for fanatical support and got it
It has been a long time since the National Stadium at Kallang sounded anything close to a sporting arena during a football match.
After a dismal few years on the international front, Singapore football fans didn’t pack the stadium while those who did so watched the games in silence.
The #Singapore fans are in full voice here at the National Stadium.
And they have now unfurled this huge national flag in the stand!
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) November 9, 2018
But on Friday night, you could sense the optimism from the crowd of 30,783 – probably because their favourite football icon Fandi Ahmad was leading the troops this time around.
The national anthem was sung in full unison as the giant Singapore flag was unfurled. The noise decibels went up another level when Hariss scored and Singapore can now continue to dream of a fifth Suzuki Cup title.
Gabriel Quak is playing like a man on a mission
Hariss walked away as the hero on the night after scoring the opening goal but it was Gabriel Quak’s brilliant wing-play that really caught the eye.
It was his pinpoint cross which wreaked havoc in the Indonesian box and allowed the Singapore captain to slam home his first goal of the tournament.
Quak, who spent the year in the Thai League with Navy FC, has looked like a different player in the last two months and for Singapore’s sake, the fans will be hoping the fleet-footed winger continues to dazzle.
He had a man-of-the-match performance in the friendly against Mongolia and put in another superb shift in this game. Switching flanks with Yasir Hanapi at will, Quak covered a lot of ground and took every opportunity he had to make his crosses count.
Indonesia don’t have Plan B if wingers fail to impact
The Indonesians looked comfortable in possession and play a slow build-up game from the back before trying to find their wingers out wide.
While this game plan has worked wonders for them in recent months, they don’t seem to have a Plan B when the going gets tough.
Stefano Lilipaly’s creativity must be better utilized. The talented playmaker hardly got a sniff of the ball and was made to chase lost causes. The five-time finalists must get the ball to the Bali United playmaker more often for him to make an impact.
If Bima Sakti’s charges are to come back from this disappointing start and qualify from the ‘Group of Death’, he will need to go back to the tactics board and come up with a better game plan.
Shakir’s knee injury a huge concern for Lions’ chances
Singapore brought just one recognised left-back into the tournament in Shakir Hamzah and there were huge expectations of the Home United man.
He clocked a good shift but things came to a worrying end on 85 minutes when Fandi forced the defender to be substituted despite his insistence to continue.
With only Zulfahmi Arifin as the other option for the left-back spot, the Lions will be hoping their maurading wing-back is fit enough to face the Azkals on Tuesday.