A late Siyovush Asrorov header proved to be the difference between the two sides as Singapore lost out narrowly to Tajikistan in their Group C encounter at the Ansan Wa Stadium.
Singapore were just three minutes away from claiming a creditable draw against the 120th-ranked Tajikistan, but a defensive error proved the team's undoing.
A fatal lapse of concentration in defence following substitute Umedzhon Sharipov’s corner saw Asrorov ghosting in among a sea of red shirts to plant a superb header beyond Hassan Sunny’s reach.
Singapore U23 coach Aide Iskandar had employed a pressing game from the opening whistle, pressuring Tajikistan whenever they were in possession and it was a tactic which worked a treat early on.
Baihakki Khaizan was supreme on a couple of one-on-one situations with Tajikistan forward Shodibek Gaforov, while Anumanthan Mohan Kumar put in a decent shift in midfield.
The Lions created an opportunity just two minutes into the game when Sahil Suhaimi teed up Shahfiq on the edge of the box, but the latter was not able to keep his effort down with his weaker right foot.
The Tajikistanis settled in well after the opening 10 minutes and had a number of inroads which created problems for the Lions’ defence.
Safuwan Baharudin tracked back well and caused Gaforov to prod wide on 12 minutes, before he prevented a certain goal eight minutes later.
After Hassan had scuffed his punch from Fathullo Fathulloev’s left-wing cross, the 23-year-old was on hand to block Dilshod Vasiev’s follow-up volley before it crossed the line.
Hassan then redeemed himself with a world-class save after the half-hour mark, plucking Fathulloev’s goal-bound freekick out of the air.
Forced to regroup after Zulfahmi Arifin limped off with an injury, the Young Lions eventually rode out that storm and nearly found themselves ahead just before half time.
Faris Ramli robbed the ball off a Tajikistani defender before setting up Shahfiq Ghani, but the latter’s curling effort was well read by opposition goalkeeper Alisher Tuychiev.
With the scores locked at 0-0, Tajikistan coach Mukhsin Mukhamadiev brought on winger Jahongir Ergashev after the break to introduce more pace on the flanks and the latter nearly had an immediate impact on the game.
The 21-year-old rounded Hassan before squaring the ball across the six-yard box, but Nuriddin Davronov somehow managed to lash over an open goal under no immediate pressure.
Akhtam Nazarov also nearly found himself in a one-on-one situation with Hassan, but the latter was alert to rush out of goal to snuff out the danger.
With the Tajikistanis stepping up their tempo, the Singaporeans were struggling to get any headway in the attacking third.
Aide's boys failed to string many passes in the second half, and when they eventually did, they failed to capitalise.
Sahil took down a long Amirul Adli pass before setting up Shahfiq, whose fierce volley inside the box was parried by Tuychiev.
The rebound then fell to Faris who could not find the target with an ambitious overhead kick.
Aide then brought on Shameer Aziq for the tiring Nazrul Nazari, but was unable to prevent the Tajikistanis from launching quick attacks down the flanks in the last 15 minutes.
Eventually that pressure paid off for their opponents as Asrorov rose the highest inside the six-yard box to break the Lions’ hearts.
Singapore will now have to get a result against 67th-ranked Oman on Wednesday to keep their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 alive.
Image Credit: Football Association of Singaporecomments