Singapore snap losing streak vs Bahrain in opening Asian Cup qualifier
Singapore got their 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualification third round campaign off to a positive start on Tuesday night by holding Bahrain to a 0-0 draw at the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.
Despite entering the game as underdogs, and having to deal with injuries over the course of the 90 minutes, the Lions held their own against the hosts to claim what could prove to be an important point in their quest to qualify for the Asian Cup.
After the opening qualifiers in the third round, Singapore are joint-second in Group E. And, with home games against Chinese Taipei and Turkmenistan to come, they have reason to believe they could find themselves top of the pile in the coming months.
Many considered Bahrain the strongest team in the group and, understandably, Lions coach V. Sundramoorthy opted for a conservative approach on Tuesday. He looked to frustrate their opponents and await for their opportunities on the counter.
Instead, a spanner was thrown in the works after just 10 minutes when he was forced into an early change after Khairul Amri picked up an injury and had to be replaced.
Singapore XI: Hassan (GK), Faritz, Irfan, Bennett, Shakir, Juma'at, Izzdin, Hariss (C), Yasir, Safuwan, Amri pic.twitter.com/iaSWeWutCl- FAS (@FASingapore) March 28, 2017
While losing their main attacking threat was a huge blow, the visitors showed no signs of being daunted and looked eager to give Bahrain a thing or two to worry about.
They created a good opening in the 22nd minute following a sweeping attack. But Amri's replacement -- his brother Khairul Nizam -- could only stab wide after being picked out by a Shakir Hamzah cross.
The hosts did show plenty of intent in the attacking third. But they struggled to carve open a resilient Singapore defence, while their set-piece attempts were also comfortably dealt with by Hassan Sunny.
Hassan was called into action in the 58th minute when a rasping drive from Sayed Saeed was too hot for him to handle, although he did recover in time to gather at the second attempt.
Then, in the 68th minute, the visitors were dealt another blow. It was Safuwan Baharudin's turn to have his outing cut short by injury, and the momentum looked to be turning in Bahrain's favour.
Just eight minutes later, the hosts seemed destined to break the deadlock. But Hassan produced an outstanding one-handed save to deny Ahmed Abdulla Ali, which was followed by Ismaeel Abdulatif wastefully blazing a follow-up effort over.
Bahrain came even closer in the 77th minute when Hassan was finally beaten by Saad Marzooq, only for Faritz Hameed to come to Singapore's rescue with a last-ditch clearance on the line.
Sundram then had to make another enforced substitution with six minutes remaining as Nizam became the latest Singapore player to limp off.
Nonetheless, the odds being against them seemed to only serve to strengthen Singapore's resolve, as they doggedly held out for the remainder of the contest and claim a creditable point.
Bahrain: Sayed Mohamed, Ahmed Ali Mohamed, Sayed Redha, Ahmed Abdulla Ali, Waleed Al-Hayam, Hesham Nayem (Abubaker Aadem 82'), Sayed Saeed (Abdulla Yaser 68'), Ali Habib Haji (Ismaeel Abdulatif 46'), Komail Hasan, Saad Marzooq, Abdulla Yusuf Helal
Singapore: Hassan Sunny, Faritz Hameed, Irfan Fandi, Daniel Bennett, Shakir Hamzah, Safuwan Baharudin (M. Anumanthan 70'), Izzdin Shafiq, Hariss Harun, Yasir Hanapi, Juma'at Jantan, Khairul Amri (Khairul Nizam 10', Fahrudin Mustafic 84')
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.