PHNOM PENH: As grey skies threatened overhead at the Prince Stadium in Phnom Penh on Wednesday (May 3), Singapore's footballers trooped onto the pitch knowing that a defeat against Vietnam could put them on the brink of Southeast Asian (SEA) Games elimination.
And while there would be respite from the rain, there was no respite for the Young Lions as they fell 3-1 to the defending champions.
With two defeats in as many games, the Young Lions are rooted to the bottom of Group B with zero points. They are behind Laos on goal difference, with the Laotians to play Malaysia later in the evening.
Even if Philippe Aw’s men win their next two games against Laos and Malaysia, they will not be guaranteed progression to the semi-finals.
"The most points we can gather now is six. And I don't think six in a group of five will get us through," admitted Aw after the game.
Vietnam were almost ahead within five minutes but Singapore goalkeeper Aizil Yazid parried away a low shot before Bill Mamadou hacked clear.
Vietnam’s Nguyen Thanh Nhan had a whiff of a chance minutes later, but lanky Singapore centre-back Kieran Teo put in a solid block.
Singapore had their first shot on target in the 19th minute as a long throw bounced into the path of Fairuz Fazli Koh but his acrobatic effort was held.
The Vietnamese initially struggled to find inroads but broke the deadlock in the 36th minute as a loose Singapore pass was gobbled up in midfield. Nguyen Van Tung cut inside his man and drilled home a low effort.
"At this level where teams are quality, an individual mistake will be punished," said Aw. "It is frustrating because in the first 30 minutes we didn't make things easy for Vietnam."
Just seven minutes later, Vietnam doubled their lead as a loose touch from Fathullah Rahmat dropped straight into the path of Nguyen Tai Son. Nguyen’s first-time effort deflected off Mamadou, leaving Aizil stranded.
Conceding the first two goals from counter-attacks was disappointing, said Aw.
"The boys never gave up, they kept fighting," he added. "Nevertheless, we acknowledge that Vietnam ... were the better team today and deserved (their win)."
Singapore forward Abdul Rasaq would come closest to nicking one back for the Young Lions, but his shot cannoned off the crossbar to the glee of Vietnamese supporters in the stands.
Singapore then spurned another opportunity of their own as a tantalising ball from the right found Elijah Lim, who blazed over.
Vietnam would eke out chance after chance late in the second half, before Ilhan Noor would turn a spinning cross into the back of his net with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Singapore would get a consolation late in stoppage time via an own goal as Tien Long Vu's miskick looped in over the Vietnamese goalkeeper.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Vietnam head coach Philippe Troussier said his side could have scored more.
"We know that in this competition it is not Laos and Singapore (that) are our challenge," he said. "But it is good to start the competition with this kind of result today to give my players confidence."
The Young Lions’ last victory over Vietnam at the regional meet was in 2013, when they clinched a 1-0 win en route to the bronze medal. That was the last time the team progressed out of the group stage at the SEA Games.
Aw’s Singapore side have been grouped with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Laos in what has been billed the group of death.
The last time Singapore advanced to the finals was in 1989, when the team were beaten 3-1 by Malaysia.
The Young Lions next face Laos on Saturday (May 6). Failure to beat the Laotians will all but confirm their elimination.
Singapore will go to the remaining matches looking to garner the wins, said Aw.
“If there are any teams that want to take points off us, they will have to work hard for it," the coach added.
"With this spirit going into the last two games, it bodes well for us."
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