The Monkey: Singapore 0 Iraq 2

Posted on September 7, 2011

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The Monkey briefly wondered if Jalan Besar Stadium is only capable of rocking  when Malaysia visit, before settling down to pen these notes from the World Cup qualifier between Singapore and Iraq.

1. A mixed bag from Singapore. A number of Lions turned in good defensive performances, yet theywere left pondering costly errors. Keeper Lionel Lewis, still troubled by a groin injury, kept Singapore in the game with two smart saves in the first half and one early in the second.

Nashat Akram and Safuwan Baharudin

But he might have reacted quicker to Alaa Abdul Zahra’s header for Iraq’s first goal and for the second, Lionel should really have made the ball his before Younis Mahmoud could have a bite at it.

Young defender Safuwan Baharudin was outstanding for much of the game, reading it superbly and winning the majority of his challenges against physically superior opponents.

He was left on his heels in the 50th minute though, just a step short of a challenge as Zahra nipped in to head past Lionel. A painful lesson, but hopefully a important one – the Young Lions man now knows these are the slender margins on which international games turn.

2. The other two turning points in the game happened inside Iraq keeper Mohammed Kassid’s penalty area. In the 55th minute, the ball fell to an unmarked Hafiz Rahim in the box.

As the Geylang United man arched his body back, poised to strike the volley, Mustafa Kareem’s belated challenge from behind struck Hafiz’s boot, sending him sprawling. TV replays showed contact with the man, no contact with the ball. To be fair to referee Minoru Tojo who waved away the appeals however, that was a difficult spot without the aid of replays.

10 minutes later, Jalan Besar rose in anticipation of an equaliser as Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak looked set to finish Aleksandar Duric’s knockdown. But Shahril missed the Lions’ best chance of the game, with Bassim Abbas applying just enough pressure to put him off.

3. Shahril Ishak needs to step up. With Qiu Li a shadow of his normal self after a stomach upset, Singapore needed Shahril to shake off a nondescript run of form and run the attack. Playing in his favoured central position, the Lions captain cut a peripheral figure however and never really took command of the game.

Without Shahril or Qiu Li moving around and encouraging the team to keep the ball on the ground, Singapore reverted to slinging diagonal balls into the box. The delivery from the flanks was mostly disappointing though and Iraq keeper Kassid was always dominant in the air.

At 27, it’s time for Shahril to become the main man for the Lions, the way he was for Home United in his last S.League season before moving to Indonesia in 2010. He doesn’t want to go the way of Singapore’s last regular captain – after being handed the armband in 2008, Indra Sahdan’s international career all too rapidly headed south.

4. Did the Lions miss Raddy’s presence? In the 1970s, the former Singapore coach Choo Seng Quee remarked that his Lions only put in maximum effort when there was a foreman-like figure on the touchline screaming instructions.

Without the red-carded Radojko Avramovic on the bench, the Lions of 2011 did work weary legs to the limit on Tuesday night. But they lacked the calmness of mind to play a more patient, short-passing game, or the confidence to inject some improvisation into a predictable attack.

Avramovic has now served the mandatory one-match ban for his red card against China. But the Lions management are still sweating on his presence on the bench for the rest of the campaign. The Football Association of Singapore now has to submit a report to the Asian Football Confederation to explain the Serb’s tasty language after some dubious refereeing in Kunming. If that report does not satisfy the AFC, Avramovic faces an additional four-match suspension.

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