0, that’s the number of times that Singapore has won gold in the SEA Games football competition. And judging by the hapless display the Singapore Under-23s put out against Laos in their 0-0 Group B opener on Dec 1, UrbanWire’s sad to report that even a place in the semi-finals seems to be another distant dream.

Forget all the talk about Singapore qualifying for the 3rd round of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers for the 1st time, squash all the euphoria that surrounded the senior team’s successful defence of their ASEAN crown earlier in the year.

When it comes to the Under-23s, the question is, are we expecting a little too much?

Against a Laotian squad that many expected the Lions to beat by a comfortable margin, it was in fact the minnows that showed their opponents a thing or 2 about football. Showing grit, fearlessness and desire against their more well-off counterparts, the Laotians nearly even came out victors in the rather physical contest.

A Seemingly Lacklustre Affair

The first half was certainly a cagey affair for the Lions. Failing to impose themselves on the Laotians and take the game by the scruff of the neck, the Lions soon found out the hard way that their opponents weren’t their lunch.

As early as the 4th min, Laos showed their attacking intent. A fast break following a foiled Singapore foray upfront saw striker Vongphet Sylisay flash a shot just wide of Hassan Sunny’s goal from the edge of the penalty box.

A notable incident happened in the 17th min when Singapore’s Khairul Amri was nearly clean through on goal in the penalty box. A bodycheck by a Laotian defender was enough to prevent the striker from scoring. While the challenge might have seemed innocuous, a different referee might have given Singapore a penalty for the seemingly dubious block.

From the 30th min, Laos began to up the ante further. The raw pace they possessed especially on their left flank was enough to trouble right back Hafiz Osman immensely and served as a launch pad for many of their attacks.

In the 32nd min, during a spell of dominance by Laos, the Laotians nearly took the lead when a snapshot by Sounthalay Saysongkham forced Sunny to make a decent save.

Failure To Launch

If it’s any consolation, the Lions began to show more urgency in attack during the 2nd half of the game. Although in this case, Laos managed to keep their more illustrious opponents at bay while being especially dangerous on the counter.

Singapore Midfielder Tengku Mushadad managed to test Laotian keeper Toulakhame Siththidaphone from range in the 52nd min. Although to be honest, it was a fairly straightforward save for the latter to make.

With the game becoming more physical as frustration mounted, tempers frayed when winger Ridhuan Muhammad was brought down by a rough Laotian tackle. A confrontation between the 2 sides ensued, but thankfully no punches were thrown and the referee opted to resume the game without any cards shown.

Singapore’s best chance of the game came in the 71st min when Amri was fouled on the edge of the penalty box. Opting to take the free-kick himself, the striker sent a peach of a shot over the wall but Toulakame was more than equal to the task, producing a stunning save in the process.

With the game drawing to a close, the Lions certainly tried to up the tempo, but against a resolute and compact Laotian team, it certainly wasn’t easy. Winger Fazrul Nawaz was left to rue what might have been when Toulakame proved to be a major roadblock yet again, producing another great save, this time from close range.

Final score: Singapore 0, Laos 0.

A Glimmer of Hope

Even if it was a team game, it wouldn’t be fair to criticise the entire team for their seemingly lacklustre performance. UrbanWire was impressed by the performance shown by central defender Shariff Abdul Samat.

The S-League’s Young Player of the Year was an absolute rock in the heart of defence. His well-timed tackles and good reading of the game were pivotal in preventing the Lions from falling to a shock defeat against Laos.

Back To The Drawing Board

For coach Raddy Avramovi?, it’s back to the drawing board to plot a way past favourites Vietnam and Malaysia. Undoubtedly he’ll be annoyed that his charges failed to get past minnows Laos but in some ways, the draw might just serve as the catalyst for the Lions to make the drive for the semi-finals.

Victory against both Vietnam and Malaysia might seem a tad impossible, but the Lions have the quality to emerge victors. It’s now up to the players to dig deep, emerge stronger from the draw and play their hearts on their sleeves over the next 180 minutes to ensure that Singapore finally progresses out of the group stages.

Singapore takes on Vietnam and Malaysia on Mon and Sat at 4.25pm respectively. Both matches will be shown on MediaCorp Channel 5.