Khairul Amri was the hero for Singapore on Thursday night as his second-half header proved to be the difference between the Lions and Afghanistan in the joint World Cup and Asian Cup qualifier.
On a night when he was honoured for hitting a century of caps in international football, it was perhaps befitting that Amri scored the winning goal that kept the Lions’ hopes of reaching the 2019 Asian Cup alive.
The Lions remain third in Group E with seven points from four matches, three behind new leaders Japan, who beat Syria in the other group match.
Despite having home ground advantage, Singapore got off to a tentative first 45 minutes where they created little goal-scoring chances.
Instead it was the visiting Afghans who dominated the proceedings with their enterprising style of football, with the front duo of Norlla Amiri and Khaibar Amani constant threats to the Singapore backline.
The first real sign of danger came after 12 minutes of play when Zulfahmi Arifin conceded possession meekly to Amiri, but the latter’s run into the box was halted by the alert Baihakki Khaizan.
Madhu Mohana could have opened the scoring for the Lions midway through the first half though, but his header from Zulfahmi’s inswinging corner went just wide of the left-hand post.
The Afghans kept coming with Singapore keeper Izwan Mahbud having to smother Amiri’s header from Faysal Shayesteh’s corner, before seeing the latter’s free kick sail just wide of the post.
The home side then went on an excellent break in the 38th minute with Amri putting Shahril through on goal, but the latter got his bearings wrong as the ball went agonisingly out of play.
The visitors ended the half strongly, with Amiri forcing Izwan to parry on a couple of occasions before setting up Amani to head inches wide of the mark.
It was the same combination just before the break, but Amani somehow tapped wide from three yards out when it seemed easier to score.
Singapore boss Bernd Stange knew he had to do something at half-time as he swooped to replace the out-of-sorts Shahril with Faris Ramli.
That gave the Lions much more impetus going forward.
Hafiz Sujad, who had been moved into the middle to accommodate Faris’ arrival, stole the ball from an unsuspecting Shayesteh and set up Amri, whose shot was deflected wide.
They enjoyed a series of corners thereafter, but Amri and Madhu were unable to convert their headers.
At the back, the Lions had to stay alert with right-back Nazrul Nazari hacking Afghan captain Djelaludin Sharityar’s header off the line in the 67th minute.
That goal-line clearance proved crucial as the home side went on to break the deadlock five minutes later.
Faris whipped a brilliant inswinging corner from which Amri rose the highest to direct his header inside the bottom right corner.
The Lions were then forced into some late rearguard action with Baihakki Khaizan at the right place at the right time to clear Zubayr Amiri’s goal-bound header.
That proved to be enough to seal the win for Stange’s side in front of 7,128 fans at the National Stadium.
They will next host Cambodia at the same venue on Tuesday.
Photos: Football Association of Singapore, Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwocomments