Ten-man Singapore hold on to draw with Philippines in 2016 AFF opener
BOCAUE -- Singapore overcame the odds of having to play almost an hour with a man down to hold Group A hosts Philippines to a 0-0 draw in their opening 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup clash on Saturday night.
In a feisty clash at the Philippine Sports Stadium, the Lions found themselves with a numerical deficit shortly after the half-hour mark when Hafiz Abu Sujad was shown a straight red card for a dangerous challenge on Phil Younghusband.
That tipped the balance in favour of Philippines, and they created enough chances to have comfortably won the contest.
Nonetheless, a combination of some wasteful finishing, as well as an inspired defensive display from Singapore, led by goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, meant both sides had to settle for a draw.
After finally getting their chance to stage the Suzuki Cup, along with Group B hosts Myanmar, it was disappointing that only 4,339 fans turned up for the tournament opener.
Those who did show up, however, were certainly entertained from the opening whistle, with challenges flying, and couple of moments of individual brilliance.
Stephan Schrock was the first to get the fans on their feet in the 16th minute, unleashing a ferocious, dipping free kick from 35 yards that was set for the back of the net until Hassan produced a fantastic save.
Schrock had another, closer attempt in the 30th minute that failed to trouble the Singapore custodian, but the Lions had bigger problems four minutes later.
Although there was little intent on his part, Hafiz ended up landing his studs into Younghusband's chest, in an attempt to win an aerial ball. Referee Masoud Tufayelieh showed no hesitation in issuing the Singapore midfielder his marching orders.
But the visitors did enough defensively to reach the break intact, allowing coach V. Sundramoorthy a chance to address his charges, and get their structure back in place.
But, just two minutes after the restart, they were almost carved open when Schrock's delightful through-pass found a clever run by Younghusband in behind the opposition defence, only for him to be smartly denied by Hassan one-on-one.
Down a man, Singapore struggled to made any headway in the attacking third. Safuwan Baharudin summed up the situation when he attempted a shot from the halfway line, which barely called Roland Muller into action.
Philippines, on the other hand, look revitalised by the half-time introduction of Hikaru Minegishi. It was his deflected effort in the 61st minute which eventually led to an opening for Schrock, only for his shot to bounce safely to Hassan after he had skipped past three challenges.
Singapore also looked to change things around. Substitute Faris Ramli, to his credit, did try his best to provide that missing spark.
He combined well with M. Anumanthan in the 67th minute to force his way through inside the box before his dangerous ball required a vital interception by Kenshiro Daniels.
As the game entered the closing stages, it evolved into a full-on battle of attrition, with Philippines' relentless onslaught of attacks against Singapore's dogged, determined yet exhausted defence.
Minegishi had a real opportunity when he was set up by Schrock with 10 minutes remaining. He found himself in acres of space but blazed over with only Hassan to beat.
Manuel Ott came even closer in the 87th minute when he tried his luck with a howitzer from 30 yards that finally had the opposition keeper beaten, only for it to flash wide of the post.
And, with their final meaningful foray forward, the Azkals earned a corner into injury time, and Minegishi was somehow left completely unmarked inside the box.
He connected cleanly with his header and it looked destined for the bottom corner. But Hassan, at full stretch, pushed it wide to salvage a share of the spoils for the plucky Lions.
Unhappy with what he felt was a harsh decision to send Hafiz off but proud of the resilience his players showed, Sundram said: "When we went down to 10 men, the task became a lot more difficult to come away with the result.
"Credit to the boys -- we got something today and we are confident going forward to our next game against Thailand.
"Obviously, with 10 players, it's difficult to press high and win the ball there so it's natural for any team to sit back and try to counter in that situation.
"The boys were struggling by the last quarter, but they gave everything."
Meanwhile, Philippines coach Thomas Dooley expressed frustration at what he perceived as persistent time-wasting from Singapore, although he was also unhappy with his team's failure to capitalise on their numerical advantage.
"It's a little bit disappointing to play against 10 men with a lot of time, and to not score," said the former United States captain.
"Some would say they parked the bus, and that's a part of the game I don't like, but we created enough to score and we just didn't finish our chances.
"The game is 90 minutes long, and the actual playing time is usually 65 minutes, but this game must have been 45 minutes long. You can see from the first minute they were out to waste time.
"We didn't create a lot but we had a couple of chances and, if you want to win the game, you have to score."
Philippines: Roland Muller, Kenshiro Daniels (Junior Munoz 82'), Amani Aguinaldo, Jeffrey Christiaens, Kevin Ingreso, Phil Younghusband, Manny Ott, Misagh Bahadoran (Mark Hartmann 58'), Stephan Schrock, Iain Ramsay (Hikaru Minegishi 46'), Mike Ott
Singapore: Hassan Sunny, Faritz Hameed (Baihakki Khaizan 77'), Madhu Mohana, Daniel Bennett, Shakir Hamzah, M. Anumanthan, Juma'at Jantan, (Faris Ramli 64') Safuwan Baharudin, Hariss Harun, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Khairul Amri (Yasir Hanapi 90')
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.