SINGAPORE – As the pressure mounts on Takayuki Nishigaya and his Singapore football team, they responded with a much-improved performance as they came from behind to beat Chinese Taipei 3-1 at the Bishan Stadium on Tuesday.
And the Lions will go into their first-round World Cup qualifiers against Guam on Oct 12 (at home) and 17 (away) with renewed belief.
Fans had bayed for blood following a series of uninspiring performances that began from the 4-1 defeat by Malaysia at January’s Asean Football Federation Championship – and including last Friday’s 2-0 home loss to Tajikistan – but Man of the Match Lionel Tan insisted there was no cause for alarm.
After the centre-back scored his third international goal on his sixth cap, the 26-year-old said: “I have been in the national team for six games and we lost only once.
“From my point of view, there is no need to panic. International windows are very short, and we have players together for a short period of time.
“We have just one day to work on certain aspects, and there are other factors such as player condition to consider.
“The coaches can do only so much. During the game, it’s about how hungry we players are to carry out the tactics, so the pressure should also be on us.”
While Nishigaya kept his 3-4-3 formation, he made five changes to Friday’s starting line-up.
It yielded the intended results as the Lions made a lively start to the match in front of 2,189 fans.
But once again, they found themselves with their backs against the wall when Ange Samuel Kouame headed in Fong Shao-chi’s cross in the 29th minute.
This time, the men in red did not crumble. The sense of urgency returned as they linked up well to produce several nice passages of play and complete the comeback.
Song Ui-young equalised from the spot in the 42nd minute after Iqbal Hussain did well to hold the ball, turn and draw a foul from Chen Ting-yang.
Tan gave Singapore the lead when he connected with Zulfahmi Arifin’s 65th-minute free kick.
Substitute Shawal Anuar then added gloss to the victory by stealing the opponents’ throw-in and running half the length of the field to score his ninth international goal in 29 caps.
Shah Shahiran linked play well in midfield and the Lions also had Hassan Sunny, who extended his national record for the number of caps for a goalkeeper to 107, to thank for getting behind at least five long-range shots and denying Kouame in a one-on-one.
Chinese Taipei’s Gary White, who had coached them to a 2-2 draw against Thailand and a 3-2 win over the Philippines, praised the Lions for moving well.
But he added that they still have some way to go to reach the level of their Asean rivals in terms of the Thais’ penetration and final pass and the Filipinos’ power and pace.
Nishigaya, who cut an unusually forlorn figure for most of the post-match press conference, agreed that his team can still do better, despite improving his record as Singapore coach to six wins, five draws and six losses.
He added: “After our last match, we discussed what we needed to work on in our attacking phase, and found our attacking shape tonight.
“In the first half, our players were not sprinting back when facing counter-attacks after our corner kicks.
“At half-time, I demanded that they sprint back… I’m very happy to see their commitment and fighting spirit.
“I believe everyone who works in the football environment here is dedicated and has sacrificed as we work to develop Singapore football.
“Like Lionel said, everyone has to take responsibility, and I hope everyone can cheer for the team and encourage the players to move to the next level.”
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