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 By Gabriel Tan

Singapore put in battling display but lose to Iran in FAS Under-21 final

Singapore U21 team
Singapore U21 have now lost on three consecutive occasions against Iran, dating back to March.

Hosts Singapore turned in a battling display but came up short in the inaugural FAS Under-21 International Challenge Cup after they were beaten 1-0 by Iran in Saturday night's final at Bishan Stadium.

Mehdi Mehdikhani grabbed the only goal of the game shortly after the half-hour mark to win it for the Iranians, although they did have to weather some late pressure as the hosts searched desperately for an equaliser.

The defeat means Singapore are have now lost their past three meetings against Iran following consecutive defeats in their trip to Tehran back in March, failing to score a goal in the process.

They actually started the brighter of the two teams with J. Dhukilan threatening with a free kick in the sixth minute that was just over. That was before a ferocious drive by Amiruldin Asraf forced opposition keeper Nima Mirzazad into a fine save.

Nonetheless, Iran gradually worked their way into the contest and had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the 18th minute. Reza Karamollachaab pounced on a poor back pass from Shahrin Saberin to race through on goal, only to fire straight at Zharfan Rohaizad.

But there was no denying them the opening goal in the 31st minute. Poor defending from the hosts saw them fail to close down Mehdikhani, who was allowed all the time in the world to settle before drilling a low shot into the bottom corner.

Mohammad Gholamreza then spurned an excellent opportunity to double their lead a minute before the hour mark, blazing way over from inside the box after being released by a lovely pass from playmaker Reza Shekarighayeh.

However, as the game entered its closing stages, the Singaporeans mustered one final push to draw level.

Shameer Aziq looked set to race onto Adam Swandi's slide-rule pass before his progress was halted by a perfectly timed tackle by Seyed Razzaghpourrezaei.

And nine minutes from time, they had one final chance after Amiruldin brought down Shafie Muliantoh's left-wing delivery. After failing to spin away from his man, cleverly laid the ball back into the path of Adam. The classy midfielder looked destined to fire home the equaliser but his fierce shot was bravely charged down by Medhi Fiazabadi.

That paved the way for Iran to play out the remainder of the contest and secure the trophy.

"Of course, the boys are disappointed because they really wanted to win this final," said Singapore U21 coach Richard Tardy. "But today, I'm very happy with how the players fought.

"I think, in the first half, we were the equal of Iran and we can keep this spirit, and now work towards improving other aspects like technical ability.

"We had a few occasions where we could have scored but things like the first touch let us down."

Meanwhile, Iran U21 coach Amir Hossein Peiravani praised the improvement Singapore have made since their previous meetings in March, but lamented his charges' inability to win by a bigger margin.

"I think Singapore are much better than three months ago; they have really progressed," said the 46-year-old. "It was a good match today except maybe the scoreline wasn't fair because we had five or six good chances to score another.

"However, we were missing six key players who are back in Iran preparing for the start of the league and I had many players under the age of 18, so this kind of experience is important for their growth."

Iran U21: Nima Mirzazad, Amir Hossein Afshar, Aref Kolahsoerhki, Medhi Fiazabadi, Seyed Razzaghpourrezaei, Ali Sorkhehkav Taheran, Mehdi Mehdikhani, Reza Shekarighayeh (Abolfazl Hassani 82'), Mohammad Gholamreza, Reza Karamollachaab (Hossein Saki 66')

Singapore U21: Zharfan Rohaizad, Rusyaidi Salime, Amirul Adli, Shahrin Saberin, J. Dhukilan (Taufiq Muqminin 90'), Joshua Pereira (Shafie Muliantoh 80'), Adam Swandi, Haiqal Pashia (Shameer Aziq 61'), Hami Syahin (Amir Zalani 76'), Jonathan Tan (Gareth Low 69'), Amiruldin Asraf

Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.

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