MANILA: He prowled the touchline constantly, gesticulating, shouting, urging.
At times, Laos coach V Sundramoorthy’s voice seemed to echo into the grandstands and at the final whistle, he had the best reason to shout, as Laos held Singapore to a 0-0 draw at the 30th SEA Games on Monday (Nov 26).
Sundram’s Laos hassled, harried and harassed Fandi Ahmad’s Singapore throughout the 90 minutes at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, and their reward was a hard-earned point.
After a scrappy start to the game, the Young Lions’ first opportunity came courtesy of Faris Ramli, who cut in from the left but directed his shot just over the bar.
But urged on by Sundram, Singapore’s former national team head coach, Laos grew into the game, biting into tackles against the much taller Singapore players.
"We expected Singapore to play the long balls to Ikhsan (Fandi) and to the flank to Faris where he is able to beat somebody one on one," said Sundram at a post-game press conference.
"We did it in training to make sure that my right-wing doubles (on) him and not give him space and time.
“And for Ikhsan, we needed to stop the crosses … and we needed to mark him.”
Fandi’s side had a scare in the 30th minute as the Laotians won a freekick just outside the Singapore box. But Young Lions custodian Zharfan Rohaizad held well.
As the game opened up, a minute later, Ikhsan was played cleverly through by Shah Shahiran, only for Laos goalkeeper Xaysavath to block with his legs.
Another chance fell the way of Singapore a couple of minutes later as Faris carved his way into the box and found Irfan, but the centreback could only fire his shot wide.
Singapore started the second half in lively fashion, with Zulqarnaen Suzliman picking out Ikhsan Fandi, but the Raufoss striker could only direct his shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Zulqarnaen was the next player to attempt an effort of his own, but his low shot was palmed away.
Singapore began to pile on the pressure, with Shah shooting narrowly wide of the post with the Laos goalkeeper beaten. Then it was Ikhsan with a header just over.
Despite the Young Lions having the height advantage, Laos held firm.
“We worked hard on marking (during) set-plays which I think the boys have done very well,” explained Sundram.
As the Young Lions pressed, Laos soaked up the pressure and almost delivered a sucker punch - only for defender Syahrul Sazali to deliver an excellent block.
Arguably, the best chance of the game came in the 78th minute, as a floating cross from Tajeli Salamat found Ikhsan, but his header hit the crossbar and went over.
As the clock ticked down, tackles began to fly in but the Laotian side held on for the draw.
Speaking to the media after the game, Fandi stressed his disappointment at not getting the three points.
“It wasn’t our best game but we still created a number of chances which we could have scored,” he said. “I guess it was not our day today.
“We had our chances but I thought our midfielders weren’t dominating in the first half - especially in the first half - and in the second half when we came out, I thought we could have gotten some good chances to finish it.”
The Young Lions have never won SEA Games gold.
Singapore last won a medal at the SEA Games in 2013, when it took home bronze in Myanmar. It failed to progress from the group stages at the last two SEA Games.
Fielding a question from a Vietnamese reporter about Singapore’s policy of naturalising foreign footballers, Fandi also noted that player development has been an issue for Singapore in recent times.
“It’s very difficult for us. Other countries are not the same as Singapore,” Fandi said.
“The situation changes because we used to develop many players but now it’s very difficult for us. That's why maybe 10 years ago, we have many (foreign players) because we don't have ... enough numbers.
“And majority of our players here are not professional footballers like Vietnam or any other countries in Southeast Asia, majority are students and NSmen … That is the difference between us and that’s why we hope that (in) future we can try to persuade to get back the foreign talent scheme here because it's going to be difficult for us long term."
The football competition is an age-group tournament comprising Under-22 teams, which can field two overage players.
Singapore are in Group B, which consists of defending champions Thailand, regional heavyweights Indonesia and Vietnam as well as Brunei and Laos.
In Group A, hosts Philippines are drawn with Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Timor Leste.
The top two teams from each group qualify for the semi-finals.
When asked after the game if the result was "extra-special" given his ties with Singapore, Sundram said: “Not really, because Singapore is my country - so it’s totally different.
“My advantage is that I know eventually all the players, I’ve been watching them grow up and its a good point for Laos to start the campaign and we are satisfied.
The Young Lions will on Thursday face Indonesia, who upset Thailand 2-0 in the day’s earlier game.
“They will be a dangerous team,” said Fandi. “We have to wake up and we can’t play like what we did today.”
Follow Mediacorp’s coverage of the 30th SEA Games and get the widest Team Singapore coverage with four LIVE channels on Toggle. Go to toggle.sg/seagames2019 for details.