Ikhsan scores, Singapore stay alive in SEA Games after win vs. Laos
Singapore retain a slim chance of making the semifinals of the 2017 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games after securing a 2-0 victory over Laos in their third Group A game at Selayang Stadium, near Kuala Lumpur, on Friday.
Successive defeats to Myanmar and Malaysia meant the Young Lions had to win this game, and they did just that, thanks to two goals in the first 11 minutes from attackers Taufik Suparno and Ikhsan Fandi.
Singapore coach Richard Tardy rang the changes for this crucial game, handing Shahrin Saberin, Hanafi Akbar, Adam Swandi and Taufik Suparno their first starts of the tournament.
It paid off as the Young Lions seemed hungrier, and broke the deadlock after just three minutes.
Hanafi strode onto Hami Syahin's through ball before squaring across goal. While Ikhsan stretched and failed to get a touch, Taufik was on hand at the far post to fire high past Laos goalkeeper Paseuth Saymanolinh.
They doubled their advantage eight minutes later, with Ikhsan converting from the spot for his first goal of the tournament after being fell by Laos captain Sipasong Bounthavy in the area.
Laos, led by former Singapore assistant coach Mike Wong, then went close on 22 minutes with Phanthavong Thanin firing just wide from 25 yards out.
Singapore could, however, have ended the first half three goals up.
Ikhsan managed to round Saymanolinh after a quick one-two with Taufik. But Laos defender Phommathep Phathana got back in time to clear the danger.
The Young Lions' tempo somehow dropped in the second half, with Laos looking more assured on possession, but just lacked that bit of composure in the final third.
Singapore goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad was tested for the first time on 48 minutes, producing a superb reflex save to deny Natphasouk Soukchinda's goal-bound header.
12 minutes later, Kongmathilath Phithack fired into the side netting after getting to the end of a cross-field pass.
In the 78th minute, the loose ball fell to Phathana in the area, but his fierce drive was smothered by Zharfan.
Singapore should have ended the game with more goals, but failed to put their chances away.
On 87 minutes, Taufik somehow fired wide when it seemed easier to fire on-target after being released through on goal by substitute Joshua Pereira.
Then on the stroke of full-time, Joshua reacted the quickest to a half-cleared Taufik corner. However, his resulting shot from inside the six-yard box cannoned off the right-hand post before being cleared.
In another Group A game, Myanmar thrashed Brunei 6-0 to collect their third straight win to remain in pole position, above host nation Malaysia, to make the last four.
Singapore will play their final group game against Brunei at Selayang Stadium on Aug 23.
Singapore: Zharfan Rohaizad (GK), Shahrin Saberin, Irfan Fandi (C), Amirul Adli, Rusyaidi Salime, Taufik Suparno, Muhelmy Suhaimi, Hami Syahin (Joshua Pereira 73'), Hanafi Akbar (Haiqal Pashia 65'), Adam Swandi, Ikhsan Fandi
Laos: Paseuth Saymanolinh (GK), Somphoupheth Santi, Pathammavong Piyaphong (Lounlasy Lathasay 10'), Xmounty Sinouane (Kettavong Armisay 28', Khampaseut 58'), Sonthanalay Khampanh, Phanthavong Thanin, Phommathep Phathana, Natphasouk Soukchinda, Sipasong Bounthavy (C), Kongmathilath Phithack, Khochalern Phoutthasay
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT