Singapore U23 0-1 Indonesia U23: Where do we go from here?

FFT’s Kenneth Tan picks up the pieces from last night’s crushing defeat which shattered the nation’s dream of claiming their first-ever football gold medal at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games…

Star performer: Syazwan Buhari 

Widely blamed for the two goals which he let in against Myanmar last week, Syazwan enjoyed a night of redemption as he flew into a slew of superb saves to ensure his side stayed in the contest till the very last moment.

The 22-year-old was assertive throughout, commanding his area and repelling almost everything that came his way. His second-half save on Ahmad Noviandani’s point-blank effort had been as worthy as David De Gea’s best saves for Manchester United this season.

Even the Spaniard could have done little about Evan Dimas' excellent effort though.

Could do better: The whole team

It is easy to point fingers whenever something goes wrong. Some will single out Sahil Suhaimi for his profligacy in front of goal again, while others will point fingers at Ho Wai Loon for two overzealous challenges which led to him being sent off.

The truth is that every member of the squad must take responsibility for this humiliating group stage exit. Throughout the tournament, far too many players failed to turn up, playing far below their potential.

None of the seniors were on hand to stop the rut when the going got tough - themselves succumbing to the general feeling of helplessness that spread like a wildfire through the ranks.

The defining moment

In top-level international football, there isn't any room for any mistakes or lapses in concentration – something which the Young Lions learnt the hard way two minutes after the break.

Sheikh Abdul Hadi first allowed Muchlis Hadi Ning Syaifulloh to glide past him too easily outside the box. The Indonesian gleefully unwrapped his gift by cutting the ball back across goal. Following that, Hadi and another two watched on as Dimas wrapped his foot around the ball to rake his effort into the top right corner.

There was no doubting the quality of the strike, but it may have been prevented had just one of Singapore's defenders thrown his body into a challenge, or desperate attempt to block. We'll never know now.  

Tactical Battle

With Faris Ramli and Irfan Fandi both not fully match fit, coach Aide Iskandar had to be brave in his team selection but opted to go with Stanely Ng and Amy Recha to fill the pair’s void. 

That backfired as neither got one single shot on target in the first 45 minutes. Both Amy and Sahil had trouble breaching the defence capably led on the night by towering Indonesia centre-back Agung Prasetyo, while Ng continually ran himself up blind alleys on the right.

Faris and Irfan were eventually thrown on for the second half, but were relatively well-contained by the Indonesians’ disciplined 4-4-1-1 formation.

Dimas, who started in the hole behind Muchlis, constantly tracked back to receive the ball and dictate the tempo from deep. That meant Singapore’s centre-midfield pairing of Pravin Guansagaran and Adam Swandi were forced into overtime.

Aji Santoso’s game plan worked to perfection as the Garuda Muda focused on getting the ball to their fast wide men in Noviandani and Paulo Sitanggang, both causing Singapore problems all evening when they ran at their counterparts.

The emphasis wide paid off for the visitors as Ho got himself dismissed after a poor challenge on Dimas in the second half. Safirul was shifted to left-back while Sahil was sacrificed for Suria Prakash on the right flank.

Aide’s ensuing tactical reshuffle removing Singapore’s bite in the centre, leaving Irfan to fend for himself upfront - something which played right into the wily Indonesians’ hands.

Verdict

Here’s a simple equation: if you don’t put your shots on target, you don’t stand a chance of scoring.  It is alarming that the Young Lions’ attack looked bereft of ideas, only managing to keep one shot on target all game.

The statistic of four matches played, five goals scored - three resulting from set-pieces - is a damning one. And instead of the blame lying merely with the forwards for not doing their primary job, it points to deeper, underlying problems within the Young Lions’ system.

Singapore never convinced for one second, right from the first whistle in the opening game against Philippines, to the final one in the fateful clash with Indonesia.

But Singaporean football must not stagnate here. They can’t afford to. With the next edition of the SEA Games still over two years away, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) still has plenty of time to build up a new-look squad and find a capable successor after Aide to mould them. 

The dream of a first-ever SEA Games gold medal may have died last night, but it could just prove to be the catalyst the FAS needs to tear things up from the top down and return to the basics.

All images: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo