Report: Singapore 2-1 PNG
Two well-taken first-half goals were enough for Singapore to pull off a 2-1 win over a determined Papua New Guinea side at the Hougang Stadium on Saturday, and get the final stage of their preparations for the year-end Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup off to a positive start.
The Lions will take on Hong Kong in another international friendly at Hougang on Tuesday, and while Saturday's performance will give them a lift in confidence, it will also provide enough learning points for Bernd Stange's young side, which included five debutants who earned their first international caps today.
Despite being ranked 48 places higher than their opponents, who were playing their first international game since 2012, Singapore - ranked 152nd - got off to a nervous start against PNG, suffering two goal-mouth scares in the first seven minutes that forced Singapore keeper Hassan Sunny into early action.
But diminutive striker Sahil Suhaimi calmed the hosts' nerves with a brilliant individualistic effort in the 23rd minute that thrilled the 1,748 fans, when he dribbled past three PNG defenders along the edge of the box before sending a screamer past fully-stretched PNG keeper Ronald Warisan.
Sahil's strike partner, Fazrul Nawaz, then made it a reassuring 2-0 when he connected perfectly with Shahfiq Ghani's cross to bury the ball into the PNG net in the 23rd minute.
Nerves settled by the two goals, Singapore increasingly dominated the first half despite being troubled at times by PNG's aggression, strength and speed.
Defender Baihakki Khaizan could have scored twice when his headers off Shahdan Sulaiman's crosses narrowly missed their mark. The first, in the 33rd minute, whizzed past the face of Warisan's goal, while the second, three minutes later, hit the bar.
Despite being two goals down at the break, Wynton Rufer's plucky PNG side never gave up, and proved more than a handful for Singapore's midfield and defence at times.
After Fazrul missed a golden opportunity in the 48th minute when he failed to connect with Shahfiq's cross, PNG's efforts finally paid off in the 60th minute when speedy substitute midfielder Raymond Gunemba wiggled past two Singapore defenders before slotting past Singapore substitute keeper Izwan Mahbud.
Buoyed by that goal, PNG had two more chances to score against Singapore but Izwan was always on hand to pull off assured saves.
Singapore also missed two more chances to score when defender M. Anumanthan shot wide in the 86th minute after some good link-up play between Sahil, galloping winger Suria Prakash and substitute striker Iqbal Hussain, and when Iqbal shot straight at Warisan three minutes later.
Both sides' coaches declared themselves pleased with the result after the game. Said PNG coach Rufer: "Despite losing, and I hate losing, I am pretty satisfied with the result.
"I felt that Singapore clearly underestimated us, and I was building on our boys to be more aggressive. The two goals we let in were soft goals but I was happy with the performance. The player showed good team spirit."
Singapore assistant coach Aide Iskandar, standing in for head coach Bernd Stange, who missed the game because of a fever, felt his side could have been more clinical with their chances.
He added that the Lions appeared a little off-kilter at times in the second half because of the substitutions that were made. "That disrupted our rhythm a bit but overall, we deserved to win," said the former Singapore skipper.
"Playing lower-ranked teams like PNG is never easy despite what the rankings suggest, because they are underdogs, and underdogs always want to prove themselves, and have nothing to lose. But this will help the team to improve for the game against Hong Kong on Tuesday."
He also compliment the five debutants - defenders Fadli Kamis and Al Qaasimy Rahman, midfielders Suria and Amirul Adli and striker Shameer Aziq - on their performances. "Their call-ups are opportunities for them to prove themselves, and I think they all gave decent accounts of themselves tonight," he said.
Singapore will take on Hong Kong at the Hougang Stadium on Tuesday, 9 Sept 2014.
Singapore - Hassan Sunny (Izwan Mahbud, 46th), Afiq Yunos (Amirul Adli, 46th), Fadli Kamis, Baihakki Khaizan, Al-Qaasimy Rahman, Zulfahmi Arifin (Suria Prakash, 35th), Hariss Harun, Shahdan Sulaiman (M. Anumanthan, 67th), Shahfiq Ghani (Iqbal Hassan, 72nd), Sahil Suhaimi, Fazrul Nawaz (Shameer Aziq, 92nd).
Papua New Guinea - Ronald Warisan, Daniel Joe, Valentine Nelson, Cyril Muta (Agi Moses, 68th), Tommy Sammy (Emmanuel Simon, 84th), Nigel Dabinyaba (Raymond Gunemba, 54th), Michael Foster (Brad McDonald, 59th), George Slefendorfas, David Muta (Vanya Malagian, 90th), Maurie Wasi, Koriak Upaiga.