Tough task for Aide as Singapore face early exit
It's a football narrative that's all too familiar.
The Lions matched their opponents for most of the game, but plucky Tajikistan capitalised on a rare lapse of concentration to steal a late winner and all three points of offer.
Singapore could very well have won the game, but left Ansan Wa Stadium empty-handed, frustrated once again in a match that wasn't beyond their reach by any means.
"We lost our concentration for the last few minutes and that cost us the match. Tajikistan was a good and physical side who kept possession of the ball well," coach Aide Iskandar said after the game.
"We had a few good spells and if we had taken our chances better, we could have scored 1 or 2 goals."
It's nothing we haven't heard in recent weeks though, with Aide bemoaning his side's wayward finishing and inability to fashion enough chances to win games after friendly matches against Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong.
While it's never a good idea to underestimate opponents, even teams who are ranked 161st and 200th in the world, these were two games that offered the Lions a chance to arrive in Incheon with a head of steam.
But while Singapore fielded several senior players who didn't make the plane to South Korea in the end, including the central midfield pairing of Hariss Harun and Shahdan Sulaiman, the only result was an unconvincing narrow win over PNG and a dour scoreless draw with Hong Kong.
Not much has changed after Singapore's first match at the Asian Games.
Inexperience not an excuse
Goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was in imperious form, keeping Singapore in the match with some superb blocks, including a world-class save from a direct free kick in the first half.
Shahfiq Ghani had his best game in quite some time too and was involved most of Singapore's promising moves, but it was a rare bright spark in an opening encounter which represented Singapore's best chance of a result.
For once, Sahil Suhaimi wasn't fighting a one-man battle up front, especially with wingers Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari hugging the touchline and rarely cutting in to provide support.
What was missing though was movement off the ball, with many Singapore attackers waiting expectantly for a pass rather than moving into space when their teammates were in possession, making it easy for Tajikistan to block any routes on goal.
"Some of our players are playing at this level for the first time and I think they gave decent accounts of themselves," Aide said.
While age and inexperience might seem a handy excuse, there's no hiding the quality in Singapore's backline.
Al-Qaasimy Rahman was the only fresh face on the day, with LionsXII defenders and Singapore regulars Safuwan Baharudin, Baihakki Khaizan and Afiq Yunos filling the other three defensive spots.
Throw in veteran Hassan in goal too and you have quite an experienced defence.
Tajikistan's 87th minute winner was down to an inexplicable switching off during a dangerous set piece situation and Singapore paid dearly for it.
Six red shirts remained static to either side of Siyovush Asorov, giving him all the time in the world to gleefully planted a header into goal to hand the tie to Tajikistan.
The Lions can ill afford any more such mistakes, for their next opponents will be even less forgiving than the Tajikistanis.
67th-placed Oman fell to a surprising 2-0 loss to Palestine in their first group game, and need this win as much as Singapore do.
If Singapore need any extra motivation, they have but to look to fellow Southeast Asian participants Vietnam (who upset Iran 4-1 on Monday).
Both teams will possibly face off in the AFF Suzuki Cup at the end of this year, but it is the defending ASEAN champions who look like they'll soon be packing their bags for home at the moment.
Watch Singapore vs Oman live on Youtube on Wednesday, 17 September at 7pm. Alternatively, you can catch the delayed telecast on Okto (Starhub Channel 108) at 11pm.
Image Credit: Football Association of Singapore