Syria 1 Singapore 0: Lions suffer first defeat in Group E

Singapore suffered the first defeat of their 2018 World Cup qualifiying campaign after being edged 1-0 by Syria early on Friday morning.

Oday Al-Jafal’s 59th minute goal was enough to separate the two sides at the Sultan Qaboos Stadium in Muscat, Oman and help Syria dislodge Singapore at the top of the five-team Group E.

Singapore had chances to salvage a point late on, but were let down by their profligacy in front of goal.

Lions coach Bernd Stange sent out almost the same 11 that started the historic draw against Japan in June, with Safuwan Baharudin the only new face as he replaced Zulfahmi Arifin.

That meant a back four of Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Baihakki Khaizan and Shaiful Esah riding out early pressure from the Syrians.

Forward Sanharib Malki lashed a volley over from close range on six minutes, before Al-Jafal's free-kick nine minutes later sailed high into the floodlights.

The Lions finally settled into the match and could have scored on a couple of occasions that came their way thereafter.

Khairul Amri’s opportunistic 40-yard snap-shot in the 21st minute sailed just wide of the mark, leaving Syria keeper Ibrahim Alma heaving a sigh of relief.

Eight minutes later, Hafiz Sujad's shot was charged down by Ibrahim in a one-on-one opportunity before Amri’s follow-up was headed clear by an alert Syrian defender.

Syria then carved out an excellent opening on 34 minutes, but captain Raja Rafe could only shoot straight at Singapore keeper Izwan Mahbud.

They finally put the ball in the back of the net on the stroke of half-time via Mahmoud Al Mawas, but the goal was ruled out due to the ball going out of play before Omar Khribin’s cut-back.

Nonetheless Fajr Ibrahim’s men picked up where they left off after the restart, as Al-Jafal's 20-yard shot was saved by Izwan before Khribin fired a wild volley over from close range.

Their persistence paid off in the 59th minute as Malki got the better of Nazrul a little too easily down the left-hand side, before crossing into the box for an unmarked Al-Jafal to head past Izwan.

Singapore could have equalised just two minutes later when Amri lost his marker in the box, but his shot crashed agonisingly off the left-hand post.

Stange then threw on Faris Ramli and Khairul Nizam for Fazrul Nawaz and Izzdin Shafiq as the Lions tried to find a way back into the game.

Izwan was then called into action to prevent the Syrians from going two ahead by turning substitute Abdelrazaq Al Hussain’s shot around the post on 77 minutes.

Amri had several gilt-edged opportunities once again in the final 10 minutes, but failed to put them away to his own obvious frustration.

The best chance came six minutes before the end when he looked odds-on to convert Safuwan's knock-on from point-blank range, but Ibrahim somehow managed to divert it wide with his outstretched right leg.

Singapore now drop to second in Group E, level on points with Japan following their 3-0 win against Cambodia.

However the Lions will be comforted by an easier run of four successive home qualifiers over the next two months, starting with Afghanistan on October 8.

Photo: Football Association of Singapore