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International Friendly: Singapore 2 Philippines 0

Understandably, Singapore started the friendly international match against the Philippines at the Jalan Basar stadium probably with an eye on next week’s World Cup qualifier against Jordan. Still, playing at home against a lower-ranked team, you would imagine that it would at least play with a bit more enterprise in the opening half to justify that ranking. If the game ended at the half, and although the match remained nil-all, the neutral would have come to the conclusion that it was, instead, the Philippines that was the higher ranked team.

So, perhaps, Singapore was probably wary that we sent them packing from the Suzuki Cup last year. Although, the difference between this game and last year’s 1-all draw could not have been starker. Then, in Vietnam, we packed our defence and prayed. That we salvaged a draw at all probably surprised us as much as it did Singapore.

This time, we signalled our intentions as early as the 3rd minute when Angel Guirado dinked his way down the right flank and shot straight at the goalkeeper. That was the mere statement of intent. The Philippines kept its shape like a proper away team and tried to break quickly forward at every opportunity.

It was mature, intelligent football. Some of the touch football being played belied the fact that the entire squad had had only one training session prior to the match. In fact, we all thought Chieffy Caligdong had rewarded our enterprise with an opening goal in the 13th minute. The goal was disallowed for an infraction.

Singapore probably had more of the possession; but most of its passes were in its own half of the field. The first time Neil Etheridge in the Philippine goal was called into real action was not until the 15th minute. A quick interchange sent a Singapore player through; but Etheridge always had that covered.

The Younghusband brothers, in particular, were combining well with Fil-Dutchmen Paul Mulders and Jason de Jong – the night’s central midfield tandem – to launch numerous dangerous crosses into the Singaporean penalty box. Alas, Angel Guirado had been taken off with an injury. His height and heading ability would have been useful at the end of those crosses.

More interchanges of passes just top of the Singapore box in the 35th minute yielded a freekick for the Philippines in an inviting position. Phil Younghusband took the kick and sent the ball curling just inches wide of the left post. Two minutes later, Caligdong dispossessed a Singapore defender and shot on the turn. The ball flashed inches wide of the right post.

Singapore had a freekick just as the half was about to expire, but the shot was straight at Etheridge. The save was routine.

The Philippines began the second half just as it did the first – on the front foot. However, the initial excursions into the Singapore half suddenly left the Philippines thin at the back. First, Hariss Harun was allowed to cut in from the left flank in the 49th minute; but only to shoot harmlessly over the bar.

A minute later, Singapore won a left-sided corner that was taken short. The ensuing shot deflected off the foot of Ray Anthony Jónsson to leave Etheridge in no man’s land for the opening goal.

The Philippines responded brilliantly by going into the attack. In the 53rd minute, the excellent James Younghusband worked himself into a good shooting position right side of the Singapore goal. His shot was parried by the Singaporean goalkeeper into the path of Caligdong, who laid the ball back down the middle for Phil Younghusband to take a crack. The shot was straight at the goalkeeper, who held onto the ball desperately.

The Philippines continued to attack in waves to try to draw level; but this only meant that the team could be caught on the break. This was exactly what happened in the 65th minute when a long ball from deep in midfield found Aleksandar Duric, who out-sprinted the Filipino defender and then coolly slotted the ball past the diving Etheridge.

That goal killed the game off as a spectacle as Singapore, experienced campaigners as its players are, closed down shop and played on the break. The Philippines continued to pile forward to at least try to get something from the exercise; but Singapore kept it tight at the back. If anything, it was Singapore that was feasting upon the wide open spaces being left behind the Philippine defence to even threaten to steal a third goal before the night was over.

The result was disappointing for the Philippines; but the match did offer Coach Michael Weiss a glimpse into the team that hopefully he will be able to have at his disposal when we fly off to play in the AFC Challenge Cup as well as the Suzuki Cup next year. Stephan Shrock – injured – did not play. Ditto Manny Ott, who probably has a bit of an edge over Jason de Jong in the holding midfield role.

Football is such a funny old game that, although tonight’s team is considerably stronger than the team we set out to play against the same country in the Suzuki Cup last year, the result did not go our way. That our team is stronger was evident. Perhaps, what we lacked tonight was that bit of luck that surprisingly saw us snatch a draw last year in Hanoi. And these things, or so they say, have a way of evening up over time.

Tonight it was Singapore’s turn.

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