Five things we learnt from Singapore 2-1 Papua New Guinea: More expected from Lions
1) Sahil ready to lead the line for the Lions
Never mind the Asian Games, Sahil Suhaimi looks ready to be the key man for Singapore's attack at the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup as he put in an encouraging display as the lone striker up front.
The Courts Young Lions forward already looks assured at international level at the tender age of 22, and that's a very promising sign for a Singapore side which has been accused of being reliant on Khairul Amri.
His goal on 17 minutes was right out of the top drawer - receiving a lofted pass from Shahdan Sulaiman, dribbling past three PNG defenders before lashing a fierce drive just inside the box which PNG keeper Ronald Warisan could not keep out.
Thrilling solo runs and a clinical finish are just one side of his game though. Sahil also showed his ability on a number of occasions to hold up and bring the likes of Fazrul Nawaz and Shahfiq Ghani into play.
2) Debutants not looking out of place
Six players made their debuts for the Lions on Saturday night, but there were few problems as they took to the rigours of international football without much trouble.
Full-backs Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman and Fadli Kamis did their job well to contain the fast PNG wingers and stayed on throughout the 90 minutes. Exciting winger Suria Prakash, who came in just before half time to replace the injured Zulfahmi Arifin, showed glimpses of his ability through his penetrative runs.
The youngest player of the lot, Amirul Adli, also showed real assurance alongside Baihakki Khaizan after he replaced Afiq Yunos at half time. The 18-year-old did not look overwhelmed by the occasion and was always ready to take an extra touch to size up his options before setting up a teammate.
while Iqbal Hussain and Shameer Aziq didn't have much time to make an impact, the signs remain promising for Singapore football as we look ahead to the upcoming Asian Games
3) Where’s the playmaker for Singapore?
This might sound like a broken record to some, but Singapore can't seem to create chances without captain Shahril Ishak.
With Shahril entering his thirties this year, there does not seem to be anyone stepping up to the take the mantle of link man between midfield and attack.
Zulfahmi Arifin was given the coveted role right from the start but did not show much before coming off injured after 36 minutes. Shahfiq Ghani took over, but drifted too wide on a couple of occasions and failed to make an impact.
Iqbal Hussain then replaced Shahfiq for the last 15 minutes, but similarly did not make much of a difference.
That being said, two players who could one day take over from Shahril did not take to the field on Saturday evening.
The precocious Adam Swandi was left on the bench throughout, while Faris Ramli, who was given a rest, has improved in leaps and bounds this season. We might get to see what they can do if the pair are picked to play against Hong Kong on Tuesday.
4) Singapore defence struggling against pace
Maybe it’s down to pure desire, or perhaps PNG had better fitness levels. Whatever the case, the Lions looked exposed in defence whenever their opponents attacked them with pace.
There are a number of speed merchants in the PNG team and this resulted in the Lions’ defence staying back to cope with the danger. In particular, Al-Qaasimy was forced to play the ball back to goalkeeper Hassan Sunny on quite a few occasions thanks to constant pressing from opposition right-back Daniel Joe.
The goal which Singapore conceded showed future opponents how to score against the Lions – attacking penetration right through the middle.
Papua New Guinea substitute Brad McDonald went on a run which lured out Baihakki and Amirul in defence, before setting up Raymond Gunemba for a clinical finish past substitute goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.
National Team head coach Bernd Stange will have some food for thought ahead of Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup defence.
5) World Rankings can be deceiving
Papua New Guinea? The 200th-ranked nation?
Most Lions' fans must have been scratching their heads when the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) first announced that they were going to play the Kapuls during this international break.
However they proved that we perhaps should not read too much into FIFA world rankings.
Not many gave PNG a chance against reigning ASEAN champions Singapore, who are ranked 48 places above them, but they held their own. Apart from a nervy opening half-hour, the visitors were able to give as good as they got.
Papua New Guinea could have levelled matters late on when forward George Slefendorfas got his head to a Brad McDonald cross, but fortunately for the Lions, Izwan Mahbud read the danger and managed to snuff out the danger.
PNG's two-year international hiatus might explain their low ranking, the team were much better than expected.