Singapore’s Deserved SEA Games Exit

With high expectations going into June’s SEA Games football tournament, Singapore’s Young Lions would have been hoping to do much better on home soil. As it is, Aide Iskandar’s men fail at the group stages, losing out to Indonesia and surprise package Myanmar for the two semifinal spots. In truth, the Young Lions were never good enough throughout their four group games, winning as many as they lost. Here are three reasons why.

Aide’s Tactical Decisions

Singapore could have gone into their last group game against Indonesia with an easier task than the must-win situation they faced, had they at least gotten a draw with Myanmar in the second group game. The lack of urgency in the first half of the must-win game against Indonesia was as apparent as it had been until the last ten minutes of the Myanmar defeat, where Aide looked for his side to hoof the ball to striker Irfan Fandi, in the hopes of using his height advantage to win headers and knock-downs for his teammates. It was a tactic that almost worked, with Irfan heading just wide in the dying minutes against Myanmar, but the lack of ingenuity and creativity in Aide’s plans were hopelessly exposed in just the second game of the tournament.

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aide will shoulder most of the blame

In the third game against Cambodia, where a win was as important to keep the Young Lions’ hopes alive, Aide went for the jugular and deployed all of his major threats in a 4-4-2 formation, with Irfan and Sahil Suhaimi up front, and Faris Ramli on the flank. It did work as the Young Lions prevailed, but Aide forced his side back into their shell in that vital must-win game against Indonesia, keeping Faris and Irfan on the bench, and leaving the misfiring Sahil up front.

As it was, Malaysian Cup final hero Sahil continued to play with his head in the clouds as his lack of desire cost his side dearly against the Indonesians. His failure to lead the line effectively in all four group games – even in the one where he scored in injury-time to seal the game against Cambodia – frustrated his coach, strike partner and fans alike. Had Aide been more assertive, he would surely have axed Sahil even from the Cambodia game. Why Shahfiq Ghani did not get a single minute on the pitch is beyond unbelievable.

Aide’s defensive nature meant the Young Lions could not express themselves as much as they should have in front of their home fans, and his failure to make bold decisions at vital stages of games and in the tournament as a whole meant he was constantly outwitted by his counterparts. He will certainly take a lot of blame for the Young Lions’ failure to even reach the semifinals at the newly-built National Stadium.

Failure To Defend

Much of this debacle was due to the Young Lions’ inability to defend, especially set-pieces. Only Anumanthan and captain Rahman Al-Qaasimy came out of this tournament with any credit, among the defensive personnel. Goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari was in shambles throughout the tournament, with his mistakes leading to both Myanmar goals, and every subsequent shot towards Singapore’s goal was met with bated breath from the crowd and his defenders. Aide’s defenders lost all faith in Syazwan, even if they tried not to show it, and this transmitted to the dip in form of the rest of the defence. Shakira Hamzah was supposedly the more senior member of the defensive line, consistently displayed petulance and showed much ill-discipline, while less said about Ho Wai Loon’s red-card display against Indonesia, the better.

The defence weren’t help by their midfield, until the introduction of Pravin from the second game onwards, where his strength and drive provided much steel in midfield. Adam Swandi’s midfield displays left much to be desired, with his short stint in France in FC Metz’s academy looking to have done little to improve his game, as he left Pravin and the defence exposed, while providing little creativity moving forward.

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pravin (R) shored up a badly exposed midfield

Even as the Young Lions only conceded a solitary goal from set-pieces, against Myanmar, there were countless occasions when the opposition got ahead of their Singaporean markers. This failure to defend is all the more surprising considering Aide was once one of Singapore’s best defenders, and alongside him in the dugout was his former defensive partner S. Subramani. How the duo could not impart their defensive knowhow to the Young Lions will remain a mystery.

Lack Of Mental Strength

In truth, this Young Lions team lacked the mental tenacity needed to win tournaments. The lack of intensity throughout the whole tournament was so glaring. Indonesia were fearless as they continued to pour forward and attack the Singapore backline, even as they knew a draw would be enough, and even when they did get ahead in the match. On the contrary, needing two goals to win, the Young Lions were at an almost pedestrian pace, lofting the ball forward to Irfan in the hope he replicates his famous father’s goalscoring prowess.

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irfan could not do it all by himself

For a squad with 15 members in S-League feeder side Courts Young Lions for the past twelve months just to prepare for this SEA Games, along with first team duo from the recent Malaysia Cup-winning LionsXII side – Faris and Sahil – falling at the group stages on home turf is nothing short of a major disappointment. Fans turned out in their drones to support their side, with the Jalan Besar Stadium selling out for every single group game, and this was one time where fan support could not be faulted, as they sang their hearts out for every minute of the tournament. Whereas the Singapore fans gave their all, their players could not say that they left it all on the pitch.

The likes of Irfan, Pravin and Anu have still seen their reputations enhanced as a result of their displays in the SEA Games, and it will be hoped that there will be interest from abroad to take them overseas, with their youth and ability good enough to be given the chance to be exposed to foreign, higher-level leagues in order to develop their playing careers further. The much-maligned Sahil, Shakir and Faris will probably spearhead the LionsXII title charge and cup defence in the next Malaysian football season, with Safirul, Adam and Suria Prakash joining them. For the rest though, they have much to improve, as only eight of the current squad will be eligible for the next SEA Games in 2017, hosted by causeway rivals and fellow disappointment Malaysia.

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