Singapore slipped to a 2-0 defeat to Bahrain on Friday as they continued their preparations for this month’s ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
Singapore started energetically, matching the Bahrainis in every challenge and giving as good as they got. While the Middle Eastern team just about edged possession, the Lions were never far behind. The first real chance of the match went to Bahrain in the 24th minute, when a defensive mix-up in the box following a successful tackle from skipper Baihakki Khaizan saw a Bahraini striker stretch to reach the loose ball before being flagged for offside.
A minute later, Sahil Suhaimi was fouled on the left wing. He picked himself up to swing in a sumptuous free kick which would almost certainly have resulted in a goal had a rampaging Baihakki managed to make a connection.
Good interplay between Faris Ramli, Sahil and Khairul Amri saw Faris released in the Bahrain penalty box, but three defenders quickly closed him down and his shot was blocked. Chaos then ensued in the area before the ball was eventually cleared.
At the other end, Safuwan Baharudin blocked a goal-bound shot in the 32nd minute to keep the score level. Five minutes later, a series of four corners for Bahrain began when Baihakki made a sliding tackle to block a low cross. Each corner was headed behind before it was finally cleared on Bahrain’s fourth attempt.
Quick thinking from Sahil saw him intercept a wayward pass from a Bahrain defender in the 41st minute. He scampered away with the ball but was cynically brought down 15 yards out.
Safuwan thumped the resulting free kick in, but his effort went just wide of the goalkeeper’s right post. The Bahrainis immediately countered and had a good chance when a high ball into the box caught Izwan Mahbud slightly off his line, but the striker failed to direct his header well and it sailed harmlessly high and wide.
Both teams came out for the second half raring to go, and Bahrain tried to force a chance in the 48th minute but Al-Qaasimy Rahman was on hand to block an attempted cross. A quick counter-attack then saw Amri hold the ball up well while waiting for support, but his cross into the penalty area failed to find a teammate.
Bahrain sounded a warning in the 57th minute when they put the ball in the back of the net, before the assistant referee ruled the effort out for offside.
Two minutes later, Shahfiq Ghani sent a fine cross in but the defenders managed to clear their lines. It heralded a period of strong pressure from Singapore, as another fast break on the hour mark saw Hariss Harun release the energetic Faris, but his cross was blocked for a corner which Bahrain dealt with well.
A minute later, Zulfahmi Arifin whipped in a corner which Baihakki, under pressure from his marker, just missed connecting with.
Faris kept tormenting the Bahrain defenders as his trickery on the right win in the 65th minute saw a flurry of frenzied action near the Bahrain penalty box before substitute Shahril Ishak, who had just come on to replace Khairul Amri, was caught offside.
Shakir Hamzah then sent in a cross in the 67th minute after overlapping well on the left wing, but Bahrain quickly broke on the counter as Bahrain’s Ismael A. Latif beat Baihakki for pace on their left wing before placing a shot past Izwan inside the far post and putting Bahrain up 1-0.
The Lions did not let the goal break their spirit, however, and Faris again proved to be the dangerman as he dribbled into the penalty box in the 69th minute before the goalkeeper clattered into him and cleared the ball behind for a corner, with appeals to the referee for a penalty turned down.
Faritz Hameed then came on to replace Al-Qaasimy Rahman in the 75thminute, but Bahrain capitalised by quickly taking a corner as Faritz was still racing to his position. The ball pinged around the danger zone before Sami Al Hussaini fired past Izwan to extend Bahrain’s lead.
The match petered out after the second goal, with Bahrain content to sit back and absorb the pressure and Singapore unable to unlock their defence. A final chance for Singapore came in the 88th minute, but substitute Khairul Nizam was caught offside following a clever ball over the top from Faris.
“We were very good in the first 60 minutes; it was one of our best performances since I took over last May," said Bernd Stange, Head Coach of the Singapore National Team, after the match.
"If the boys could keep it up for the second half, we would have gotten something from the game, but we lost our shape a little for a 20 minute spell and that was when Bahrain punished us with a counter-attack."
"I am very pleased with our performance in the first 60 minutess, and there are many positives to take from that. If we can maintain that level for 90 minutes, we will match anybody."
Singapore National Team Line-up
1. Izwan Mahbud (GK)
2. Shakir Hamzah
5. Baihakki Khaizan (C)
12. Sahil Suhaimi (replaced by Khairul Nizam in 82nd minute)
14. Hariss Harun
16. Al-Qaasimy Rahman (replaced by Faritz Hameed in 74th minute)
19. Khairul Amri (replaced by Shahril Ishak in 64th minute)
20. Faris Ramli
21. Safuwan Baharudin
23. Zulfahmi Arifin
26. Shahfiq Ghani (replaced by Hafiz Sujad in 60th minute)
18. Hassan Sunny (GK)
7. Gabriel Quak
9. Faritz Hameed
10. Fazrul Nawaz
11. Afiq Yunos
13. Amirul Adli Azmi
17. Shahril Ishak
28. Hafiz Abu Sujad