The Monkey: China 2 Singapore 1

Posted on September 3, 2011

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The Monkey’s eyes lit on Channel 5, not to watch a Manchester United reserve match but to catch the Lions in their World Cup qualifier against China at the Tuodong Stadium in Kunming. Here’s the verdict:

1. China scores an own goal. By hosting this match in the high altitude of Kunming, the China Football Association was trying to ensure that home advantage and local conditions counted. And sure, Singapore’s players looked like they were running on empty in the last 20 minutes, which probably played a part in the final result.

China's Du Wei and Mustafic Fahrudin

But the altitude affected both sets of players, sucked the life out of the game and killed it as a spectacle for the fans at the Tuodong Stadium. China’s sluggish play would hardly have endeared them to a disaffected public, while the CFA came across as an organisation which needed to resort to petty gamesmanship to overcome Singapore.

2. But Singapore scored the bigger own goal. By keeping Hariss Harun in the blue of a police recruit’s uniform instead of the blue national jersey he should have been in Friday night, Singapore shot themselves in the foot. Despite his young age, Hariss is already the backbone of the national team. If he had been at the Tuodong, odds are Singapore would now be celebrating a precious away point. A point that may well prove the difference-maker in the final equation of these qualifiers.

Singapore came out for the second half 1-0 up and soon found themselves under siege. Hariss would have been crucial here as a defensive blocker and midfield organiser – but despite the efforts of Mustafic Fahrudin and Isa Halim, Singapore let slip control of the midfield at a key stage of the game. Without Hariss to maintain a grip in the centre, Singapore constantly ceded possession by unloading long clearances onto the flanks, only to have the Chinese attack surge right back at them. The pressure eventually told.

3. Fahrudin raged at the Chinese players’ attempts to win a penalty, Qiu Li received a yellow card after the game for his angst-ridden rant at the referee. The string of refereeing decisions which clearly favoured the home team aside though, the Lions will be cursing – because Singapore didn’t do themselves justice.

As mentioned above, Singapore’s inability to hold possession in the second half handed the initiative to a China side that can hardly claim to be their betters. In defence, Daniel Bennett and Safuwan Baharudin too often allowed Yang Xu to slip between them. Despite coach Raddy Avramovic warning before the game that China would sling plenty of crosses, the fullbacks Shaiful Esah and Juma’at Jantan let far too many of these crosses rain into the box. And all across the team, the Lions lost more 1 v 1s than they won.

After a defeat which tasted so unjust, these criticisms may seem a little harsh. After all, Singapore would have come away with a morale boosting point had it not been for a dodgy penalty award. Thing is, the Lions are capable of defending much better and holding the ball with much more efficiency. They showed it against Malaysia in the previous round – now they have to show it against a higher level of opposition.

4. In the final analysis, when all’s been said and done though…I’d rather eat a curry than a dog.

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