Singapore come back from two goals down to hold China in Lions coach Ogura’s opening game

Singapore come back from two goals down to hold China in Lions coach Ogura’s opening game

Singapore come back from two goals down to hold China in Lions coach Ogura’s opening game


Substitutes Faris Ramli and Jacob Mahler came to Singapore's rescue after visitors China took a 2-0 first-half lead.


SINGAPORE: Minutes after his side’s sensational comeback against China, Singapore head coach Tsutomu Ogura asked if he could take a swig of water before a post-match press conference.


Nobody could begrudge him a sip, or even a whole bottle, after a performance which was as much his players’ as was his.


The Lions showed heart, grit, and immense fighting spirit in the opening game of his tenure as they came back from two goals down to hold China to a 2-2 draw at the National Stadium on Thursday (Mar 21).


A Wu Lei first-half double seemed to have dashed any hopes of Singapore picking up any points in the third match of their World Cup qualifying campaign.


But substitute Faris Ramli gave the Lions a route back into the game before Jacob Mahler also came off the bench to smash home a late equaliser.


And despite a remarkable draw, there is more work to be done, said Ogura.


He told reporters after the game that he was not satisfied with the result and that Singapore could have won.


“Please don’t say congratulations,” he added.


Singapore had lost their first two matches in their qualifying group last November, with a 3-1 loss to Thailand and a 5-0 drubbing by South Korea.


But this was a much tighter affair.


And it was a different team, thanks to Ogura. While he said that he was no “magician”, he has clearly worked some wizardry.


Close to 70 places higher in the world rankings at 88, China dominated proceedings from the off. 


And with just 10 minutes played, striker Wu Lei capitalised on a pocket of space in the box to head home.


Ogura’s men pressed hard but their opponents appeared unfazed as they played their way out from the back on a number of occasions.


Singapore had Hassan Sunny to thank midway through the first 45 as he saved a weak penalty from Wu Lei after Nazrul Nazari was adjudged to have handled in the box.


The save seemed to give the Lions a boost as they launched a number of attacks after that, with midfielder Shah Shahiran coming agonisingly close with a half-volley.


But just as the Lions were about go into the break a goal behind, Wu Lei struck again in the dying seconds of the first half, after Hassan parried a fierce shot into his path.


The last time Singapore beat China in a competitive match was at the 1983 Merlion Cup, with the Lions winning 1-0 in the semi-final, according to the Football Association of Singapore (FAS). 


But Ogura’s side showed no signs of being overawed. The Japanese coach’s message to his team at half-time was simple: Don't be scared, go out there and play your game.


And the Lions heeded his call.


The hosts got their breakthrough in the 53rd minute, after a long ball from Lionel Tan found Faris and the nippy forward squeezed the ball past China’s Yan Junling.


The away side were not going anywhere with more than 40 minutes left on the clock, as Fernandinho continued to be a thorn down Singapore’s left.


Then it was time for another substitute to get in on the act as Jacob Mahler rifled home in the 81st minute to the delight of the home crowd.


On the opposite end of the stadium, a large swathe of China fans were stunned.


And rather than shut up shop, the Lions went for the win, but were denied a famous result. They could have won a penalty too, as Safuwan Baharudin looked to have been impeded in the box late on.


Despite the draw, Singapore stay rooted to the bottom of their group. 


Next week, at Tianjin, the Lions will attempt to do one better against their fancied opponents.


For now, they have a point. 


But more than a point, the result represents hope. Hope that Singapore now has a football team which can mix it with the best and hold their own.


Mohan, M. (2024, March 22). Singapore come back from two goals down to hold China in Lions coach Ogura’s opening game. CNA.

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