Singapore secured their first Asian Games victory since 1990 as a pair of first-half Shahfiq Ghani free kicks gave the Young Lions a 2-1 win over Palestine in their final Group C match in South Korea.
Palestine midfielder Saud Ahmed pulled one back in the dying moments of the game but Singapore hung on for their first win since a 7-0 thrashing of Pakistan in the 1990 Games in China.
Unfortunately, a late winner from Jahongir Ergashev in the corresponding group match against Oman saw Tajikistan claim the other qualifying spot into the knockout rounds at the expense of Aide Iskandar’s valiant warriors, who finished third with four points.
The Young Lions began the match strongly and were awarded a direct free kick from 30 yards after Sahil Suhaimi was fouled by Palestine defender Taleq Waafa in the first minute.
Up stepped Shahfiq to send the resulting dead ball straight into the top right corner for his first goal of the Games, a shot left goalkeeper Ikram Rami with no chance.
Buoyed by their early progress, Singapore kept up the tempo and had an opportunity to extend the lead when Palestine captain Reda Khaled handled the ball outside the box under no pressure.
Shahfiq made it a brace from outside the box when his direct free kick left Ikram stranded on the line as the ball flew into the top left corner after 18 minutes.
Palestine tried to respond and came close midway in the first half when Helal Mousa dribbled past a Singapore defender and stormed into the box, only to shoot straight at Singapore custodian Hassan Sunny.
That was one of a couple of stops the Warriors FC player had to make in the first half as the Palestinians failed to seriously threaten the Singapore defence.
The Young Lions had two golden chances to put the result beyond doubt after the break.
Shahfiq thought he had claimed his hat-trick when he deftly placed the ball over the Palestine goalkeeper and into the net in the 52nd minute.
He was denied though as he was adjudged to be offside after racing past his marker to receive a long cross from Nazrul Nazari on the right.
Safuwan Baharudin also came agonisingly close for the Young Lions in the 71st minute when he saw his shot beat the onrushing Ikram inside the box but not the right hand post after he was put through by Sahil.
Singapore’s inability to convert these opportunities nearly came back to haunt in the final moments of the game when Helal raced past Safuwan to lay the ball across from the right for Saud to tap home from close range with seven minutes remaining.
The Young Lions hung on to claim their first Asian Games football win in 14 years and exited the tournament with their heads held high after Tajikistan claimed a late 1-0 win over Oman to advance at their expense.
Photo: Football Association of Singapore