SINGAPORE — Singapore's perennial quest to land the elusive men's football gold medal at the SEA Games got off to a predictably inauspicious start on Sunday (30 April), as the Young Lions were decidedly second-best to regional powerhouses Thailand in a 1-3 defeat at the Prince Stadium in Phnom Penh.
Despite a spirited showing by the players as they chased their opponents all game and showed some deft movements in parts of the game, Philippe Aw's side were lacking in ideas up front against a Thai side who rarely looked troubled.
And when the gold-medal favourites stepped up a gear, they tore through the Singapore defence with ease to score the three goals for a comfortable victory.
The loss means that the Young Lions' tough assignment to get out of the proverbial "Group of Death" just got even harder, as they have to pick up points against defending champions Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia just to have a chance to reach the semi-finals.
Defensive tactics undone early
Aw set up his side defensively, with only Abdul Rasaq as the lone forward, while a five-man midfield led by captain Harhys Stewart looked to hound the Thais into losing possession for quick counter-attacks.
However, the plan was undone within eight minutes of the match, as a speculative cross from the right was not dealt with by the Young Lions defence, and Achtpol Keereerom headed the ball back from the far post for a completely-unmarked Teerasak Poeiphimai to easily head past Muhammad Aizil for the opening goal.
Aizil was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers, as he capably kept out attempts by Purachet Thodsanid and Channarong with his teammates looking overwhelmed. But he could not prevent Singapore from going 0-2 behind in the 38th minute, following a wondrous passing sequence from Thailand.
A loose ball in defence was picked up by Achtpol, and he deftly flicked it to Teerasak, who quickly set it up for an onrushing Purachet. As the Young Lions raced to close down the playmaker, Purachet smartly passed the ball back to Achtpol to slam a low shot home.
It looked as if the Singapore would be overrun, but to their credit, they pulled a goal back within three minutes through sheer bloody-mindedness. Jordan Emaviwe's cross from the left was helped on by Stewart towards Abdul Rasaq.
The forward collided with goalkeeper Soponwit Rakyart, and the ball spilled to Nicky Melvin Singh, who slammed it home from a tight angle.
However, the Thais would not be denied their opening victory, conjuring another superb goal four minutes after the break. A deft one-two on the right flank released right-back Phongsakon Trisat, who crossed low for the excellent Purachet to easily slot home.
Singapore will next face Vietnam on Wednesday.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.