SINGAPORE — So many chances went to waste, as Singapore's national football team could only register a modest 2-1 win over an overmatched Guam side in the first leg of their 2026 Fifa World Cup first-round qualifying tie at National Stadium on Thursday (12 October).
The Lions, ranked 157th in the Fifa world rankings, should have settled the match early, but flubbed so many gilt-edged opportunities against their 201st-ranked opponents that the scoreline could have been doubled or even tripled.
Even though Singapore's clear superiority told on the pitch, the visitors' late goal could throw a spanner in the works in the return leg in Guam next Tuesday.
Lions head coach Takayuki Nishigaya preferred to view the match as a positive start to the two-legged tie, insisting that his side were in control for most of the match.
"We won, which means we are one step ahead of Guam, even though we are going into their territory for the second leg," he said after the match.
"Right now, the most important thing for the players to do is to recover physically and mentally, and be 100 per cent ready for the next game."
From the opening whistle, it was evident that Singapore were by far the more organised, tactically-aware side, as they carved the Guam defence open easily and repeatedly.
Yet, they sorely lacked composure in front of goal, with forward Shawal Anuar snatching at his two attempts even when facing an open goal. Attacking midfielder Song Ui-young also had a great point-blank chance blocked by Guam goalkeeper Dallas Jaye.
Meanwhile, Lions custodian Hassan Sunny had precious little to do until he had to come out quickly to deflect an attempt by Edward Na, who was put through on goal the 27th minute.
Gem of an opening goal from van Huizen
At least it was a peach of an opening goal when it finally arrived for Singapore in the 35th minute. Defender Lionel Tan swept a long diagonal cross from the right flank to the left, finding Christopher van Huizen with plenty of space.
The Lion City Sailors wing-back thought about putting the ball into the box, but changed his mind and dribbled inside, before launching a superb shot from just outside the box for his first international goal.
That goal finally soothed the Lions' nerves, and it was 2-0 just six minutes later. A corner from the right saw a pile of bodies colliding right in front of goal, and defender Jacob Mahler pounced quickest to the loose ball to slam it home.
The one-way traffic continued in the second half, with Guam barely offering much in attack. However, Singapore continued to struggle to turn their dominance into goals, as their opponents were content to keep the scoreline respectable.
The 10,355-strong fans, though, saved their loudest cheers for the return of Ilhan Fandi, who came on after nine months out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. The 20-year-old thought he had the ball in the net in the 74th minute, but his goal was ruled out for offside.
Just as the crowd were confident of the hosts seeing out the match, up came Guam captain Jason Cunliffe who conjured a gem of a direct free kick in the 90th minute to give his side a glimmer of hope to overturn the deficit in the return leg.
"Of course, it's not very nice to be in control of a game, and then concede a sloppy goal in the last minute," Mahler said after the match.
"But like coach said, we are confident in our ability going into the next match. We have to continue to dominate like we did in this match."
Should Singapore manage to safely negotiate Guam next week, they will advance into the second round of the World Cup Asia Zone qualifiers, where they will be in Group C with South Korea, China and Thailand.
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