Singapore Young Lions lose U23 opener to hosts Myanmar
Singapore made a disappointing start to their AFC Under-23 Championship qualifying campaign when they suffered a 2-0 defeat to their Myanmar counterparts in their opening Group F clash in Yangon on Wednesday night.
It was a physical affair played out on a waterlogged pitch at Thuwunna Stadium as both sides ended the game with 10 men.
Aung Thu broke the deadlock on the hour mark before Hlaing Bo Bo sealed the victory deep into injury time.
Singapore almost made the best possible start after two minutes, but Haiqal Pashia Anugrah could only nod over from Muhaimin Suhaimi's free kick.
Myanmar then began to settle into the game, and almost scored on nine minutes. Aung Thu got past two defenders in the box, but was denied by a diving save from Singapore custodian Zharfan Rohaizad.
Two minutes later, the hosts threatened again, with Aung Thu just missing the crucial touch to convert Myo Ko Tun's cut back.
Singapore did have a good chance in the 29th minute, but Adam Swandi lashed wide of the left-hand post from just outside the area.
Myanmar should have scored eight minutes later when Aung Kaung Mann went through on goal via a long pass. However, the forward failed to keep his shot down to the dismay of the home fans.
The first half ended with a scuffle as Myanmar centre-back Thiha Htet Aung appeared to deliberately stamp on Muhaimin in an off-the-ball incident, and got away with just a yellow card.
Singapore returned for the second half with much more vigour. Forward Ikhsan Fandi forced Phone Thitsar Min into a save from 25 yards out before firing into the side netting from a tight angle.
However, the hosts grabbed the opening goal in the 60th minute. Zharfan got a hand to Aung Thu's attempted chip before Irfan contrived to clear it into his own net.
Richard Tardy's boys refused to be cowered, with Ikhsan forcing Thitsar Min into another good save before Adam's corner clipped the right-hand post.
Both sides then went down to 10 men on 69 minutes, with Zharfan earning a straight red for shoving Kuang Mann after a goalmouth melee while Kaung himself received a second yellow for his involvement in the resulting brawl.
Myanmar finished the game strongly, with Bo Bo forcing Singapore substitute keeper Hairul Syirhan into a flying save before netting the second goal three minutes into added time.
The defensive midfielder's initial header from captain Si Thu Aung's cross was tipped onto the post by Hairul, but he reacted the quickest to bury the rebound.
That sealed the victory for Gerd Ziese's outfit as they share top spot with Australia, who overcame Brunei 2-0 in an earlier match at the same venue.
Singapore will now need to avoid defeat in their next Group F game against Australia on Friday to stand any chance of making the AFC U23 Championship in China in January.
Myanmar: Phone Thitsar Min (GK), Htike Htike Aung, Thiha Htet Aung, Hein Thiha Zaw, Myo Ko Tun, Hlaing Bo Bo (Nyein Chan Aung 90'), Yan Naing Oo, Si Thu Aung (C), Mg Mg Lwin (Shine Thuya 82'), Aung Thu, Aung Kaung Mann
Singapore: Zharfan Rohaizad (GK), Darren Teh, Irfan Fandi, Shahrin Saberin (C), Syahrul Sazali, Illyas Lee, Hami Syahin (Hanafi Akbar 90'), Muhaimin Suhaimi (Hairul Syirhan 70'), Adam Swandi, Haiqal Pashia Anugrah (Amiruldin Asraf 46'), Ikhsan Fandi
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT