SINGAPORE: For 60 minutes on Wednesday (Dec 8), a stalemate seemed on the cards.
The midfield battle looked a gridlock and the chances were tough to come by.
But in a stunning three-minute spell in the second half, Singapore found their teeth and bit back, sealing a 2-1 victory over a dogged Philippines side at the National Stadium.
Goals from skipper Hariss Harun and Faris Ramli in the 61st and 63rd minute were enough for Tatsuma Yoshida’s men, as they won a second consecutive game at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
"We had a game-plan - that is why we stuck to coach's plan which was to be more compact, instead of us being far apart from each other," said man of the match Safuwan Baharudin after the victory.
"Credit to the boys, we worked our socks off to get these important three points because we know they had good, quality, individual players which we struggled a bit to stop them. But as a whole, we did something that not many teams can do against the Philippines."
Despite the comfortable 3-0 win over Myanmar on Sunday, the Japanese tactician rang in the changes - with Zulfahmi Arifin, Gabriel Quak, Zulqarnean Suzliman and M Anumanthan making their first starts of the competition.
This was a testament of his trust in the players, said Yoshida after the game.
It was Quak who looked the most dangerous for Singapore early on, as he forced the Philippines custodian into a comfortable save in the fourth minute before poking over several minutes later.
The Lions then won a freekick on the edge of the box in the 19th minute, but Zulfahmi’s shot was easily gathered by the Azkals’ goalkeeper Kevin Hansen.
Then it was Faris Ramli’s turn to have a go with an ambitious acrobatic effort, but that only found the roof of the net and the Singaporean was ruled offside as well.
While the Philippines side had their fair share of possession, they largely failed to trouble Lions custodian Hassan Sunny.
It was Singapore defender Shakir Hamzah who would have the best chance of the first half, but he bent the ball wide just before the break.
The Philippines’ grip on the game continued to grow and they were in control in the second half.
But it was Singapore that were the first to fashion a clear cut chance as excellent interplay between Faris and Gabriel led to a Shakir cutback which was put out for a throw.
Then in the span of two minutes, the home side found their footing.
First it was skipper Hariss Harun who nodded home from close range in the 62nd minute after a Safuwan flick on.
Then just two minutes later, a lung-busting run from Zulqarnaen found Faris Ramli, who tapped home from close range.
While shell shocked, the Philippines pulled one back, courtesy of a header from Amin Nazari in the 69th minute.
And while they tried their best to find an equaliser, strong defensive rearguard action by Singapore’s backline sealed the win with Safuwan and Hassan, in particular, repelling a number of attacks.
Singapore will next face cellar-dwellers Timor-Leste next Tuesday.
Timor-Leste lost 2-0 to Myanmar earlier on Wednesday, leaving them without a point after two games.
The Lions sit top of Group A with six points, while Thailand are in second with three. The top two teams in each group will move on to the semi-finals.
"The three points make me happy ... In the first half, their positioning, their courage and their fighting spirit. I thought it was fantastic," said Tatsuma after the game.
"(And) the second half, they showed their Singapore spirit."
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