FFT's Singapore Spotlight - Safuwan Baharudin
With Khairul Amri still recovering from a hamstring injury and Fazrul Nawaz relegated to the bench after last week’s start against Japan, Safuwan was left leading the line for the Lions.
While Singapore coach Bernd Stange opted to start without a recognised striker, the side’s attacking efforts were clearly designed to go through the converted defender.
Unlike in the Japan game, when anyone in red with even the faintest notion of surging forward was cut off at the knees by the Samurai Blue, there was an expectation Singapore would have more freedom against the Syrians.
The teams had fought out a close contest back in early September, when only Oday Al-Jafal’s 59th-minute header separated the sides in Oman.
Yet as in that match, Syria started with far more attacking intent and Safuwan’s first involvement was a headed clearance in just the second minute.
Forty-five seconds later he skipped past Syrian defender Ahmad Al Salih with a neat piece of skill on the left touchline before misplacing a pass as the early signs pointed to a busy night for the 24-year-old.
His next key moment came from a strong Chris van Huizen header, who was making his first international start.
Safuwan drew a foul and from the free-kick, Madhu Mohana had Singapore’s opening sight of goal, heading over from close range under pressure from Syrian keeper Ibrahim Almeh.
The Eagles then capitalised on some poor Singaporean defending to take the lead through an Omar Khribin header in the 20th minute, putting the home side firmly on the back foot.
Safuwan had a tough chance to get his side back on level terms when he won a header from a Madhu long throw, but it soared well over the crossbar as the Lions struggled to create clear avenues towards goal.
In the shadows of halftime he set himself and wore a crunching Al Salih challenge and was left limping moments later following a 50-50 effort with Syria’s Alaa Al Shbbli.
Safuwan battled on and attempted to feed Van Huizen with a wide ball that was cut-out by the Syrian defence as the home side went to the break licking its wounds from a physical half of football.
Stange would surely have been imploring his troops to chance their hand and Safuwan was on the end of their best opportunity to that point seven minutes into the second half.
A speculative ball from Baihakki Khaizan from deep in his own half fell kindly for substitute Faritz, whose cut back found Van Huizen free on the edge of the 18-yard box.
His cross was met by Safuwan at the back post and his glancing header fell just on the wrong side of the upright.
The Lions had momentum for the first time in the match – and then Madhu got sent off for an apparent elbow on Eagles forward Omar Khribin.
That forced a reshuffle and meant Safuwan’s rare opportunities became even more limited the rest of the way.
Stange introduced Fazrul with 12 minutes remaining, but he wasn’t able to add any attacking impetus as the home team’s desperately disappointing offensive effort meandered towards a meek conclusion.
Then, a ray of hope for the Lions. A Syrian arm was spotted from Shaiful Esah’s 88th minute cross and the home crowd erupted when referee Kim Jong Hyeok pointed to the spot.
They were then in ecstasy when Safuwan coolly stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way to level the scores for a fortunate home side.
But Khribin, already a villain throughout the night, had time for one last dagger blow to seal a deserved 2-1 win.
Safuwan’s effort and energy across the 90 minutes was admirable, but in truth unless Stange can find a way to elicit more effective attacking raids further up the pitch, it will continue counting for little.
Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo