2026 World Cup qualifiers: Singapore try hard, but can't hold off relentless South Korea in 0-5 defeat

Lions frustrate home side until conceding just before half-time, and succumb as Asian powerhouses turn on the style in second half

South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung celebrates after scoring their first goal in their 5-0 win over Singapore in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier.
South Korean forward Cho Gue-sung celebrates after scoring their first goal in their 5-0 win over Singapore in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier. (PHOTO: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — For 44 minutes on Thursday (16 November), the scoreboard read South Korea 0 Singapore 0 in their 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifier, and the Lions could dream of silencing the roar of 66,700 fans at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Then the Koreans scored. And the floodgates opened.

It was eventually a comfortable 5-0 win for the Jurgen Klinsmann's side as they sent their faithful fans home happy, and left Singapore wondering what hit them in the second half.

In retrospect, the sheer class of the Koreans was always going to be the decisive factor. And in trotting out an ultra-defensive formation to frustrate their opponents for as long as possible, the Lions ran the risk of being unable to respond once the home side found their appetite for goals.

They were valiant and defiant for the most part of the Group C tie in the second round of the Asian Zone qualifiers, harrying the Koreans and maintaining their sturdy formation.

Yet, South Korea's Europe-based players such as Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Cho Gue-sung (Midtjylland) and an electric Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) eventually wore down Singapore with their relentlessness, rendering the tired Lions easy picking in the second half.

Frustrating the Koreans almost worked for Lions

Singapore head coach Takayuki Nishigaya may have fielded attackers such as Shawal Anuar, Song Ui-young and Shah Shahiran in the starting line-up, but the entire team began the match deep inside their own half and were pretty much pegged back by the marauding Koreans from the first whistle.

Yet, the strategy seemed to be working, as the Koreans were tense and tentative in constructing their early attacks, as Klinsmann looked on from the bench, anxious to finally break his winless record on his sixth match in charge of the Koreans.

Wave after wave of Korean attacks came in, but the Lions held them off admirably, with veteran goalkeeper Hassan Sunny pulling off a fine block from Lee Jae-sung's point-blank header in the 29th minute.

The towering Cho had been troubling Singapore's defence with his height and strength, and he was unlucky when his snap-shot in the 34th minute crashed against the crossbar. But just as the crowd were getting restless and the Lions were growing in confidence, the 25-year-old struck 10 minutes later.

Lee Kang-in, who was already tormenting the Lions on the right flank, floated in a superb cross into the back of the defence line, and no defender was alert enough to Cho's sudden sprint, which broke the offside trap and left him unmarked for an easy tap-in past Hassan.

Hosts turn on the style in second half

The Lions could curse conceding at an inopportune time, and as they trotted out after half-time, they might have harboured intention on keeping the scoreline unchanged until the final whistle for a somewhat respectable away outing.

Within four minutes, the Koreans laid those faint hopes to rest. Cho turned provider as he swept down the right wing and crossed to the far post, where Wolverhampton Wanderers' Hwang Hee-chan rose majestically to power an unstoppable header into goal.

That goal, in effect, extinguished any hopes of an unlikely Singapore comeback, and the Koreans could relax and enjoy their outing. Son - who was shrilly cheered on by his adoring fans whenever he touched the ball - had a quiet game until the 63rd minute, when he provided the game's moment of sheer brilliance.

Receiving the ball from right-back Seol Young-woo just outside the box on the right wing, the Spurs captain whirled around, left substitute M. Anumanthan for dead, before unleashing a stunning curler from 25 metres out that swept into the top left corner of the net. The fans had paid to watch him, and he duly delivered.

By now, Singapore were hanging on grimly, even as they had a goal disallowed in the 55th minute, as Safuwan Baharudin strayed just offside during a free kick as he guided his header to Song to tap home unmarked.

Song, however, marred his return to his country of birth, as he brought down a rampant Lee Kang-in inside the penalty area in the 68th minute. Substitute Hwang Ui-jo sent Hassan the wrong way in scoring from the spot.

Lee Kang-in rounded off an superb personal outing in style in the 85th minute, the PSG winger punishing a poor clearance by Christopher van Huizen with a searing shot from just outside the box to complete the 5-0 scoreline.

It was a heavy if unsurprising loss for Singapore, who will have to regroup quickly for their next World Cup qualifier match - against Thailand at the Singapore National Stadium next Tuesday.

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