Centre-back Sheikh Abdul Hadi was the toast of the Singapore U23 team as his first-half header proved enough to beat the Philippines U23s on Monday night.
The 23-year-old’s goal helped the Young Lions to get off to a good start to their 2015 SEA Games campaign in front of a fully-packed Jalan Besar Stadium.
The margin of the victory should have been greater, but Aide Iskandar’s boys were not very clinical in front of goal throughout the contest.
The 40-year-old opted for an attacking-minded line up with Shamil Sharif just behind Sahil Suhaimi, while Stanely Ng and Faris Ramli patrolled the wings.
After a couple of half-chances from set pieces, the first real opening fell to the Young Lions in the 9th minute.
Shamil received the ball from Sahil before releasing Ng, who strode through on goal but his shot lacked the direction and power to trouble Philippines keeper Florencio Badelic Jr.
A minute later, Sahil broke free of the Azkals’ offside trap to reach Faris’ searching cross but his header went straight at Badelic Jr.
Sahil saw his shot from just outside the box plucked out of the air by the Global FC keeper, before Paolo Salenga curled over Philippines’ first shot of the night.
There were further ambitious efforts from range from Sahil and captain Al-Qaasimy Rahman, before they finally put the ball into the net just past the half-hour mark.
Shakir prodded the ball in from close range after Badelic Jr. had dropped Safirul Sulaiman’s long freekick, but the ‘goal’ was ruled out for an infringement on the Philippines keeper.
At the other end, Al-Qaasimy had to produce a well-timed tackle to deny Salenga from pulling the trigger from close range.
Aide decided to change things around on 35 minutes by replacing Shamil with Irfan Fandi, who promptly took up the centre-forward position.
Meanwhile Sahil moved into the supporting role and he could have opened the scoring just three minutes later, but his 20-yard shot was tipped onto the post by the busy Badelic Jr.
The match seemed to be petering out to a goaless draw at halftime, but the Young Lions made the much-awaited breakthrough through a set piece play.
After Faris was fouled on the right touchline, deadball specialist Safirul played in a delightful ball into the box for the unmarked Hadi to flick home his header inside the left-hand post.
Stung by the setback, the Young Azkals were determined to get back on level terms and they nearly did so on 57 minutes.
Right back Francisco Santos gave Hadi the slip after receiving an intelligent pass from Salenga, but the 21-year-old was foiled by Singapore keeper Syazwan Buhari after a one-on-one opportunity.
Surviving that scare, the Young Lions should have gone two goals ahead eight minutes later, but Sahil somehow fired wide from around six yards after taking down Irfan’s cutback.
Aide then turned to Amy Recha to replace Ng thereafter, as the home side continued to enjoy chances upfront.
Irfan’s powerful shot from just outside the box was tipped over by Badelic Jr. before Hadi fluffed his attempted connection from Sahil’s corner.
Sahil and Faris lashed wide of the mark, with the latter then wasting an indirect freekick chance inside the box minutes later after Badelic Jr. had handled Neil Dorimon’s attempted back pass.
Suria Prakash was thrown on in the dying minutes and he could have earned a penalty after going down under a challenge by Julian Clarino, but referee Hiroyuki Kimura was uninterested in any appeals from the Singapore players.
The Young Lions held out for the important three points which will help them to take early control of Group A.
Photo: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee/ Action Images via Reuterscomments