FAS Tri-Nations Series: Flamboyant Singapore defeat 10-men Philippines struck by Covid-19 absentees

Goals from Safuwan Baharudin and substitute Shawal Anuar seal 2-0 win for Singapore on a night of free-flowing attacking football

Singapore wrapped up the FAS Tri-Nations Series with a perfect record. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG

Singapore, 30 March 2022 - Singapore wrapped up the Tri-Nations Series 2022 with a convincing 2-0 win over ASEAN rivals Philippines, in front of a 9,183-strong crowd at the National Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Lions followed an inspired counter-attacking masterstroke against Causeway rivals Malaysia last Saturday with a dominant performance featuring slick one-touch passes, sharp attacking movements with players interchanging positions fluidly.

This is a major sign of optimism ahead of the Asian Cup qualifiers in June – a tournament Singapore have failed to qualify for since being hosts in 1984 – where the Lions will face off with Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Myanmar.

Interim-manager Nazri Nasir, the tactical mastermind behind both victories, reserved all the praise for his players.

“I try to pick the players based on their strengths. Full credit to the players for their performances tonight. They responded really well. I’m really happy and proud to be coaching these players. It means a lot to me,” he said.

The former Singapore international stuck with his 3-4-1-2 system but made two changes to the team that triumphed 2-1 against Malaysia. Adam Swandi replaced Zulfahmi Arifin in midfield, whilst Amy Recha came in for Taufik Suparno to partner Ikhsan Fandi upfront.

Safuwan was a constant threat to the Azkals throughout the night, even from range. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG

Covid Outbreak in Philippines Camp

For the Philippines, an outbreak of Covid-19 cases in the camp meant that the visitors could only manage to name 15 players in the matchday squad. In came Jesse Curran, Mark Hartmann and OJ Porteria for Iain Ramsay, Manny Ott and Patrick Strauss.

Buoyed by a sizeable home crowd, Singapore dominated possession from kick off. Despite having three days less rest than their counterparts, the Lions looked the livelier of both sides.

It didn’t take long for the home team to break the deadlock. With the first corner of the game heading Singapore’s way in the 10th minute, synonymous chants of “We want goal” rang loud from the home support.

Midfield maestro Shahdan Sulaiman answered accordingly, delivering a looping cross towards the far post, which was met by an unmarked Safuwan Baharudin to give Singapore the early advantage.

Just eight minutes later, the Azkals had a golden opportunity to equalise when a loose ball fell kindly into striker Bienvenido Maranon’s path, but the 35-year-old forward’s half volley was heroically saved by an outstretched Hassan Sunny.

Shawal Anuar wraps up the win for Singapore late in the game netting from close range.


Lions On Top

The Lions were still on top, displaying slick one-touch passing, sharp attacking movements with players interchanging fluidly. They nearly doubled their lead when wing-backs Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Nazrul Nazari combined only for the latter to miscue his shot, ending a promising attacking move.

Philippines was made to chase shadows, and their frustrations finally boiled over when defender Diego Bardanca shoved Amy Recha unnecessarily off the ball, earning himself a yellow card in the 37th minute.

Things quickly turned sour for the away team, when they were reduced to 10-men three minutes later. Bardanca was sent his marching orders when he recklessly lunged at captain Hariss Harun, who was advancing with the ball on the halfway line.

Both sides went close before the break, when Shahdan Sulaiman’s trademark free-kick came crashing off the woodwork before Patrick Reichelt forced Hassan Sunny into a fingertip save with a prodded effort from a Philippines corner.

Singapore showed no signs of letting up from the restart as Adam Swandi’s whipped cross into the box narrowly evaded Amy Recha and Ikhsan Fandi at the far post.

Nazrul Nazari with a lung bursting run down the left flank for Singapore. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG

Momentum with Azkals

However, momentum gradually shifted to the Azkals as they displayed resilience in adversity. Despite their numerical disadvantage, Philippines carved out a gilt-edged chance of their own when Hariss Harun’s aggressive pass into midfield was intercepted.

In a three-versus-two situation on the counter-attack, Azkals midfielder Mark Hartmann decided to go for goal only to see his effort roll narrowly wide of the post.

In the 79th minute, Singapore nearly wrapped up proceedings when substitute Hafiz Nor beat the offside trap to play a square ball towards Shawal Anuar, who struck a volley straight at Philippines goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, who plays for Birmingham City in the English Championship.

Shawal Anuar would eventually commemorate his 20th international cap with a goal when he chested down a deep lofted through ball from Hariss Harun before firing a left-footed shot past a flailing Etheridge to seal the win for Singapore.

There was also time for Nazri Nasir to hand a debut to 22-year-old midfielder Shah Shahiran before the final whistle.

It was a night to remember for Singaporean fans, who stayed beyond full-time to sing the final verses of the national anthem as part of their post-match ritual.

Safuwan opened the scoring for the Lions with a firmly planted header off a corner kick. PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG

Conversely, Philippines coach Scott Cooper was visibly frustrated with the officiating on display but defended his team’s performance.

“Take nothing away from Singapore, they have a strong and physical team with flourishing youngsters. We fell asleep on a corner kick. I’m proud of the way we conducted ourselves. We came into the game with two active subs. It was hard to accept the defeat in what was a spirited and organised performance,” he said.

The 51-year-old manager also fired a warning to his regional rivals ahead of the Asian Cup qualifiers in June, offering some hope for Filipino football.

“We were missing Gerrit (Holtmann), Daisuke (Sato), Jesper (Nyholm), Jefferson (Tabinas) … all top-quality players. When the fully-fit Filipino starting 11 hits the field, the rest of South-East Asia are in big trouble. For me, it’s hands down the best starting 11 in SEA,” he added.

Perfect Record for Nazri

Singapore interim-coach Nazri Nasir will stand down with a perfect record, but offered encouraging words to his successor, expected to be announced in the upcoming week.

“Whoever the coach is, if he needs any help, I will give my full support to him. Hopefully he can do better and create a very good atmosphere and maintain good relationships with the players - this is very important for me at this level,” he said.

Man of the match Safuwan Baharudin highlighted the uncertainty in the dressing room over the new appointment: “We are not sure who will be in or out as come June everyone is still up for selection. No matter who is appointed, we will give them the fullest support as most of us feel now is the best time to go the furthest and achieve success.”

The Singapore national team will regroup during late-May in preparation for Group F of the Asian Cup qualifiers held in Kyrgyz Republic.

Writer’s Assessment: Encouraging signs for Singapore

With Tatsuma Yoshida’s departure in January, many Singaporean fans were dismayed at the prospect of losing the progress made under the Japanese tactician. Yet, Nazri Nasir has built on the Ventforet Kofu manager’s foundations, utilising a 3-4-1-2 system.

Instead of using two wide-forwards to support Ikhsan Fandi in a 3-4-3, Nazri Nasir deployed Song Ui-Young in a lone playmaker role behind the two forwards, which has given Singapore more attacking threat. Taufik Suparno impressed against Malaysia and even Ilhan Fandi gave us a glimpse of a potential Fandi-brothers strike partnership in the near future.

Using a familiar back three that was favoured at times by Tatsuma, wing-backs Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Nazrul Nazari have been allowed more freedom to take up higher positions in the attacking phase, which has again increased our ability to create quality chances in the final third.

Over these two friendlies, we witnessed Singapore play a brand of free-flowing attacking football with fluid interchanges and sharp movement – a philosophy the Lions always strived for but failed to replicate on the pitch. With an ageing squad, this could be Singapore’s best chance to achieve elusive success on the regional stage.

Singapore’s next manager must be prepared to adapt to the squad’s strengths and continue with the same mantra of organised attacking football. Whether it is Kazuaki Yoshinaga, Lee Lim-Saeng or Stephen Constantine, the national team will be in good hands as we work towards the Asian Cup qualifiers in June.

Tonight, the team sent a message to all Singaporean football fans. We must believe in them.

Upcoming Asian Cup Qualifiers for Singapore Lions

Singapore vs Kyrgyz Republic (June 8)

Singapore vs Tajikistan (June 11)

Singapore vs Myanmar (June 14)

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