SINGAPORE — The gulf between Singapore's national football team and 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup winners Vietnam was evident, as the Lions crashed 0-4 to their Southeast Asian rivals in their international friendly at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday (21 September).
While both coaches fielded experimental sides to try out new players ahead of December's AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup, the Lions struggled after initial resistance and - without many of the regular veterans leading the way - succumbed to the hosts' incessant attacks.
Nonetheless, Lions head coach Takayuki Nishigaya insisted after the match that it was important to integrate fresh faces into his squad ahead of the regional competition.
“When opportunities to play international matches are limited, we need to find the balance between fielding our best team and giving opportunities to other players to see if they can perform at this level,” he said in a media release by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) on its website.
“Of course, I am disappointed with the result, but I am happy with some of the new players’ performances. We always aim to win matches but it is also important for the new and younger players to get minutes at this level."
Inexperienced starting line-ups
Both Vietnam and Singapore trotted out starting line-ups with seven players in each side having fewer than 15 international caps.
For Singapore, Ryaan Sanizal earned his second cap in a central-defensive pairing with captain Hariss Harun, while Joshua Pereira received his first cap in central midfield. Up front, Taufik Suparno and Ilhan Fandi had three caps apiece.
Both sides observed a minute’s silence before the match, in honour of the late FAS president Lim Kia Tong, who died on 14 September.
The Lions began the match offering stiff defiance to the marauding Vietnamese players, who passed and probed with intent from the opening whistle.
They managed to hold the hosts at bay for more than half a hour, but their resistance finally broke when Nguyen Van Quyet won a tussle outside the penalty area and slammed home a low drive in the 37th minute.
Hosts dominated in second half
That goal woke Vietnam up finally, and they showed why they are Southeast Asia's highest-ranked team in the FIFA rankings (97th), as they swarmed all over the Lions in the second half.
Just five minutes after the restart, they doubled their lead. Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny could only palm out a cross from the right flank, and substitute Nguyen Thanh Nhan did well to volley home the rebound.
Striker Ho Tan Hai made it 3-0 in the 71st minute when he headed home a cross from the left by Phan Van Duc, before Khuat Van Khang completed the scoring when he slid in to dispossess Hariss and guide the ball into the net.
“The higher the level, the more likely we will get punished when we make mistakes," Nishigaya said. "We need to maintain our concentration levels at a high standard for the entire game. We have to play these games against quality opposition, and we have to get used to this level."
The 159th-ranked Lions will have their next opportunity against quality opposition when they face 104th-ranked India at the same venue on Saturday.
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