FOX Sports Asia’s Kelvin Leong runs through the major talking points from the Philippines 1-0 victory over Singapore in the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup Group B clash.
The Azkals’ 1-0 win over Singapore at Bacolod, Philippines on Tuesday threw Group B wide open. With four teams on three points, it is anyone’s game to make it out of the ‘Group of Death’.
It was not the prettiest of games to watch but Philippines will be glad to have started their campaign with maximum points while Fandi Ahmad’s Lions will be sweating over the injury concerns of their star players.
Here are five things we learned from the game…
1. Eriksson lucky to claim winning start
Eriksson has barely acquainted himself with the Filipino players and there were suspicions that the Swede couldn’t quite decide on his final squad, and all that was apparent in the way the home team played..
There was no fluidity and bravado that we have come to expect from the Azkals and had the Singapore defence not gone to sleep in the 78th minute to allow Patrick Reciehelt to score the winner, it could all have been a very gloomy start for the former England manager.
Fandi’s charges more than held their own in Bacolod but will leave the beautiful city with two injured player and nothing to show for. Group B is wide open!
Could Eriksson be the lucky charm to help Philippines to their first-ever Suzuki Cup title?
2. Singapore suffer double injury blow at no.10
Fandi’s biggest problem in the buildup to the tournament was his search for a no.10 who can play behind lone striker Ikhsan Fandi.
Having found the man for the job in Faris Ramli, Fandi’s plans went out of the window after the PKNS FC forward limped off in the 62nd minute with what looked like a hamstring injury.
His replacement, Shahril Ishak, would have proved to be an able deputy, but within minutes of coming on, Fandi could barely watch as his veteran playmaker was stretchered off with a dislocated shoulder.
With eight days of rest before their next game against Timor-Leste on November 21, the Lions will make the long trip home to Singapore, hoping to patch up their playmakers for the remainder of the tournament.
3. Old is gold as Mulders holds the defensive forte
Paul Mulders will turn 38 in January but the defensive lynchpin rolled back the years with a commanding performance in defence and midfield for the Azkals.
The Ceres star carried his battle scars with pride as he was solid in his tackles and broke up play swiftly whenever the Lions carried the ball forward.
With the likes of Stephan Schrock, James Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt pushing further up the pitch in search of a goal in the second half, Mulders marshaled the rest of the team to hold a steady line to frustrate Singapore, who were looking to play on the counter.
If Eriksson wanted warriors to stand up and be counted, he should look no further than the Dutch-born veteran warhorse.
4. Young Lion Zulqarnaen goes toe-to-toe against Schrock
One is a 20-year-old playing his first major international tournament while the other is widely considered to be one of the best midfielders in the region.
The Azkals’ midfield maestro Stephan Schrock is an intimidating figure to have as an opponent for most, but Singapore’s young lion was undaunted as he held his ground against the former Bundesliga star.
After being fouled by Schrock in the 32nd minute, Zulqarnaen went straight up from the challenge and confronted the Ceres-Negros captain. That set the tone of the battle down that side of the pitch for the remainder of the game.
If he continues to play like this, it is hard to see the youngster being dislodged as Singapore’s right-back for years to come.
5. 20 die-hards in Bacolod, plenty more back home
Credit has to be given for the 20 die-hard fans who made the trip from Singapore to Bacolod to support Fandi’s boys. This game was held in Bacolod instead of the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila and there isn’t as much entertainment aside from attending the match itself. So for these 20 fans to be in Bacolod, you have to applaud their undying support.
And if you thought the strong turnout at Kallang last Friday against Indonesia was a one-off, you are dead wrong. With the Football Association of Singapore partnering Our Tampines Hub and Admiralty Community Sports Club for two live screenings for this game, fans turned up in droves to catch the action and cheer on their Lions.
This rejuvenated team under Singapore’s favourite football icon is fast winning back the hearts of Lions’ supporters with their brand of football.
With Fandi’s men losing in Bacolod, the acid test will come against Timor-Leste, to see if the wave of resurgence continues.