Laos U22 0 Singapore U22 0: Cubs start off with a draw

The Singapore U22s had to settle for a goalless draw with Laos U22 in the first match of their 2016 AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in Vientiane on Friday night.

Richard Bok’s boys recovered well from a poor first half and created a number of goalscoring chances after the break, but were unable to find a way past Laos keeper Soukthavy Soundala.

The former SAFFC coach made three changes to the line-up that started the friendly against the Cambodia Under-22s on Sunday – most notably leaving captain Iqbal Hussain, who had to travel back to Singapore yesterday due to a family bereavement, on the bench.

Taufik Suparno started in his place but the Tampines Rovers youngster cut a frustrated figure upfront due to a lack of proper service from his midfielders.

Instead, it was the Laotians who dominated most of the first half with Singapore keeper Zulfairuuz Rudy being called into action inside the first 10 minutes.

Forward Sitthideth Khanthavong found himself in the clear in the 14th minute but was superbly denied by a last-ditch challenge by converted centre-back Irfan Fandi, while winger Khonesavanh Sihavong’s snapshot was well held by Zulfairuuz.

The Cubs did put the ball into the back of the net just after the half-hour mark but Irfan’s goal was disallowed due to an infringement on Laos keeper Soundala.

Bok then made a couple of early changes in the second half, bringing on Anumanthan Mohan Kumar and Iqbal for Afiq Mat Noor and Adam Swandi, which turned the tide of the game.

Taufik first lashed high and wide after a Muhaimin Suhaimi reverse pass had sent him through on goal, before Ammirul Emmran fired disappointingly into Soundala’s arms via Faris Azienuddin’s low cross from the right.

Iqbal then had the opportunity to break the deadlock 11 minutes before the end, when he latched on to a lofted ball from Muhaimin inside the box, but his resulting shot was well blocked by the Laotian keeper from point-blank range.

The Courts Young Lions forward’s frustrating night continued as he was booked by referee Kim Hee Gon for going down too easily inside the box, after coming into contact with opposition centre-back Thenthong Phonsettha.

After failing to make those openings count, the Laotians broke forward in the closing stages and could have scored the winner if not for Zulfairuuz’s timely interventions.

The Home United Prime League keeper stopped substitute Maitee Maitee’s low drive from going inside his near post, before tipping Sihavong’s fierce half-volley onto the bar having just flapped at a corner.

Those couple of saves helped the Cubs preserve a precious point which leaves them joint-second in Group J, behind China who thrashed Mongolia 5-0 earlier in the day.

They will next face the group leaders on Sunday in a bid to keep their qualification hopes alive – the eventual group winners and the five best second-placed sides from the 10 qualifying groups will then progress into the tournament proper in Qatar next January.

Photos: Football Association of Singapore