Cambodia U23 1 Singapore U23 3: Sahil breaks duck as Young Lions bounce back

The Singapore Under-23s returned to winning ways on Monday night as they overcame their determined Cambodian counterparts 3-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Safirul Sulaiman and Faris Ramli both scored on the stroke of half time, to put the Young Lions into a commanding position.

Chan Vathanaka pulled one back for the Cambodians shortly after the restart, but there was no denying the hosts victory on the night as Sahil netted his first goal of the tournament just before the final whistle in front of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was in attendance.

Young Lions coach Aide Iskandar made a single change from the line-up that started the disappointing loss to Myanmar, bringing in Irfan Fandi for his first ever SEA Games start in place of Stanely Ng.

On paper, Irfan’s partnership with Sahil looked like the perfect attacking partnership, but the pair struggled to combine initially as Singapore failed to carve clear-cut chances for much of the first period.

Faris and Sahil fired long-range efforts off-target, while Adam Swandi saw his goal disallowed due to an infringement by Sahil.

At the other end, Cambodia was content to hit their hosts on the break, with captain Prak Mony Udom attempting to force openings but let down by a lack of support by his team-mates.

There was an excellent opportunity for Aide’s boys to go ahead midway through the first half when keeper Um Sereyroth was adjudged to have handled a back pass from his own defender.

However, Sahil was unable to get his free-kick past the Cambodia’s defensive wall after being teed up by Faris inside the area.

Just when the match seemed to be heading for a goal-less first half, Singapore finally broke the deadlock via a set piece – their third in as many matches.

Safirul curled an excellent free kick beyond the reach of Sereyroth after Sahil was brought down just outside the box.

Things got even better for them almost immediately afterwards, as Irfan’s shot was deflected by Sereyroth into the path of a gleeful Faris, who had the easy task of nodding the ball into an empty goal.

Stung by the two-goal setback, Cambodian coach Lee Tae-Hoon opted to introduce Chan Vathanaka and Hoy Phailin shortly after the break – both whom wasted little time in making their presences felt.

Vathanaka reduced the deficit on 57 minutes by directing a close-range header beyond the reach of Singapore keeper Syazwan Buhari, with Chhin Chhoeun deserving credit for his superb cross.

The junior Angkor Warriors nearly levelled matters on two occasions later but spurned both, as Samoeun Pidor curled over from six yards out after another cross from Chhoeun evaded everyone in the box.

The latter was in fine form throughout and proved it when he got on the end of an excellent through-ball from Phailin before seeing his shot well smothered by the onrushing Syazwan inside the box.

Singapore stabilised after surviving that pair of scares thanks to the hard running of substitutes Ho Wai Loon and Amy Recha towards the end to protect the lead.

Their work paved the way for Sahil to steal the show late on as he broke the Cambodians’ offside trap via Amy’s through ball before coolly slotting inside Sereyroth’s near post from close range.

That was the LionsXII star’s long-awaited first goal in the SEA Games, his relief clearly evident as he ran to celebrate with jubilant fans in the King George’s Stand.

The win means Singapore now move up into the crucial second spot of Group A, knowing that progress to the semi-finals rests firmly in their hands before they take on Indonesia in the final group game.

Main image: Stefanus Ian/FourFourTwo