Lions’ Asian Cup hopes take a dent after shock Taiwan defeat

Singapore were unable to sustain a good start to their Asian Cup 2019 qualifying campaign as they suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at the hands at Taiwan on Saturday night.

Captain of the night Hariss Harun had given the home side an early lead, but the plucky visitors – three places behind Singapore in the FIFA rankings – stunningly turned the tie around through goals from Xavier Chen and Chen Chao-An at the Jalan Besar Stadium in front of 5,004 fans. 

Singapore coach V Sundramoorthy got just the start which he wanted, as the Lions broke the deadlock after just six minutes. Hariss leapt into the air to power home Shahdan Sulaiman’s outswinging corner for just his fifth international goal in 74 outings.

Centre-back Irfan Fandi was also deployed as a forward in the dying stages, but the Lions was unable to find the equaliser

The goal stung the visitors into action as they started stringing a series of passing movements and getting a few shots in.

There was a warning sign for Singapore on 26 minutes when goalkeeper Hassan Sunny produced a stunning save to tip wide Yaki Yen’s goal-bound volley after a half-cleared Chen free kick.

However, it was not heeded as Taiwan duly drew level four minutes later. Chen Hao-Wei’s free-kick was only half-cleared into the path of Chen, who thumped home a speculative volley from the edge of the box that flew past Hassan in a flash.

Singapore toiled hard to regain the lead thereafter, but was unable to retain possession for sustained periods as the first half ended all square.

With things still not going their way after the break, Sundram soon introduced Hafiz Sujad for the out-of-sorts Faris Ramli but it was the visitors who scored again on the hour mark.

Chen Po-Liang’s cross from the left byline put the Singapore defence in sixes and sevens, including Hassan who came but failed to clear, before Chao-An gleefully nodded home the rebound into an empty net.

The Lions could have restored parity in the 69th minute when Safuwan Baharudin knocked on Shakir Hamzah’s cross into the path of Hafiz. However, the former BBCU man was only able to fire into the grateful arms of Chiu Yu-Hung from 18 yards out.

Sundram then threw on Nazrul Nazari and Khairul Nizam for the final 15 minutes in search of the equaliser, with the latter going agonisingly close in the 83rd minute.

Hariss had knocked on Izzdin’s free-kick into his path in the box, but the Home United man slipped when he was about to pull the trigger in front of the onrushing Yu-Hung.

Centre-back Irfan Fandi was also deployed as a forward in the dying stages, but the Lions was unable to find the equaliser despite four minutes of injury time.

Speaking at the post-match press conference, Sundram felt luck deserted his side and they deserved at least a point. 

 “I feel it was a quite even game," said the 51-year-old. "You see the first goal we conceded, the shot could have gone past the post but it hit the post and went in."

"For the second goal, I need to see the replay. It’s a clash between three players, the ball bobbled and their guy put the ball in. Luck could have gone either way and a draw should be a better result.

"That’s football. We take responsibility and move on. We wanted to win this game to be in a good position (to qualify for the Asian Cup), but this is football, we need to pick ourselves up and prepare for the next game."

Their next Asian Cup qualifier will be at home against Turkmenistan on 5 September.

Photo: FAS