Story by Koh Yizhe/Red Sports. Photos by Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports.
Chen Lei (China, #21) clears the ball away from Aleksandar Duric (Singapore, #9). (Photo 1 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Singapore National Stadium, Wednesday, August 13, 2009 – An early goal from captain Noh Alam Shah wasn't enough to secure victory for Singapore as China won the first ever National Day Challenge 4-3 from the penalty spot with the scores level at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Noh Alam Shah gave Singapore the perfect start when he headed home Rosman Sulaiman's cross in the seventh minute, but Yang Hao levelled the score for the visitors 20 minutes later with an accurate header.
When 90 minutes of football couldn’t produce any more goals, the match headed to penalties. Fazrul Nawaz hit the post despite sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and birthday-boy Aleksandar Duric's saw his weak shot saved by the legs of Yang Zhi while China put away all their penalties to take the match.
With many players from his senior squad unfit, Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic fielded a largely inexperienced side with Hariss Harun and Sevki Sha’ban starting the match.
After recovering from a nervous start, Singapore showed the first signs of life when Ridhuan Muhamad was released down the right flank and he won his side a corner when his cross was met by a defender's head.
From the resulting corner, Rosman delivered a perfect cross to the waiting head of Noh Alam Shah who planted it firmly into the back of the net at the far post, giving Singapore the lead.
Singapore then sat back and attempted to defend their lead and they almost paid for it five minutes later. Jiang Ning beat the offside trap to find a great position, but Hassan Sunny was equal to his shot from just outside the box.
With Singapore struggling to get the ball out of their own half, China looked the more likely team to score and they eventually did in the 27th minute. A cross from left back Liu Jianye found Yang Hao who left Daniel Bennett stranded and directed it past the stranded Hassan Sunny to make the score 1-1.
The goal did nothing to wake Singapore up as China continued to tear the Lions’ defense apart in search of another goal and lone striker Gao Lin almost did, but his effort was held firm by Hassan Sunny.
With Singapore giving the ball away extremely cheaply in the middle of the pitch, they were lucky to go off 1-1 at the half.
With things looking bleak for the home side, coach Avramovic made changes at the half to shake up the game. Noh Rahman came on for Rosman while Itimi Dickson replaced Shahril Ishak to inject some pace into Singapore's attack.
But the changes did little as the team still failed to string passes together. Singapore only solitary chance in the second half came 10 minutes after the restart when Duric fired over following a brilliant link up play with Noh Alam Shah put him through on goal.
Hassan Sunny was the bright spark for the Singapore team in goal as his numerous saves kept the scores level while China rained shots on his goal. On 73 minutes, he had to make himself big when Qu Bo was through on goal in a one-on-one, forcing the Chinese midfielder to blast his shot over the bar.
Sunny was called into action again seven minutes later when Yang Hao sent an strong overhead kick towards goal. A minute later, he had to push away Deng Zhua Xiang's long range curler that was sneaking in. He also saved Zhao Peng's header off the line from the resulting corner.
Singapore fans finally found their voices in the closing stages as the Lions pushed for a late goal, but both teams held on for the dreaded penalties.
Nawaz, Singapore's second kicker, and Duric, the fifth taker, then missed from the spot to hand China the first National Day Challenge trophy.
"I couldn't put my best players in this game due the injuries, but we have to cope with it and generally, I am satisfied with the team's performance," commented Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic.
"We could definitely do better in possession and we missed a few chances in the second half. Then when it comes to penalties, sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some. I am happy with the new players’ performance like Itimi (Dickson) and Fazrul (Nawaz). For Fazrul, he tried very hard, but is not fully fit."
“Hassan Sunny must take the lead from the back. He has to take more responsibility,” said Avramovic on his goalkeeper’s performance.
President S R Nathan greets players from both sides. What is a National Day Challenge without the President? 🙂 (Photo 2 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Hariss Harun (Singapore, #21) tries to prevent Jiang Ning (China, #10) from crossing. (Photo 3 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Daniel Bennett (Singapore, #16) watches on as Yang Hao (China, #19) connects with a header. (Photo 4 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Aleksandar Duric tries to get off a shot before Zhao Peng (China, #4) can do anything about it. (Photo 5 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Goalkeeper Yang Zhi (China, #1) saves the ball before Baihakki Khaizan (Singapore, #3) can make anything out of it. (Photo 6 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Substitute Itimi Dickson (Singapore, #25) passes to a teammate. He replaced a fever-stricken Khairul Amri in the squad. (Photo 7 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Aleksandar Duric reacts in frustration as he is ruled offside. (Photo 8 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
“Kiss my shoes!” Skipper Noh Alam Shah (Singapore, #8) receives a boot in the face from a Chinese defender. (Photo 9 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Noh Rahman (Singapore, #5) gets into a mid-air tussle with Jiang Ning (China, #10). (Photo 10 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Hariss Harun converts the second penalty for Singapore. (Photo 11 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
A frustrated Hassan Sunny (Singapore, #1) after failing to stop a shot in the penalty-shootout. (Photo 12 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
A change of mind by Aleksandar Duric saw his penalty shot saved by the Chinese goalkeeper, giving China the win. (Photo 13 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)
Captain Du Wei (China, #23) receives the Challenge Trophy from Minister for National Development and Adviser of the Football Association of Singapore Mah Bow Tan. (Photo 14 © Lai Jun Wei/Red Sports)