Thailand and Singapore played out a goalless draw in an international friendly at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.
It was an important match for both nations as they prepare to take on Australia and China respectively on September 2nd in the Asian Zone World Cup Qualifiers.
Singapore started the brighter of the two with Captain Shahril Ishak, Qiu Li and Shaiful Esah linking up play down the left on numerous occasions.
It took the Lions until the 11th minute to find a loophole in the Thai defence, when Qiu Li found an unmarked Shahril down the left flank only to see his delivery cleared by the Thai backline.
The home side were pressing Qiu Li high up the pitch and a few mistimed tackles saw the Home United forward flat on the ground, in pain.
As the half wore on, the Thais started coming into the game with captain Datsakorn Thonglao and Surat Sukha stringing the passes in the middle of the park.
The Thais had a good opportunity with 24 minutes on the clock when Datsakorn looked up and sent a cheeky lob that seemed destined for the top left corner until Izwan Mahbud leapt into the air and claimed it with authority.
Two minutes later, the Thais put together their best move of the game when Apipoo Suntornpanavej dinked a long ball into the path of Sompong Soleb down the right who sent a teasing grounder into the box, only to see an oncoming Surat blaze the ball over the bar.
The second half started with both sides making a string of substitutions with Shahdan Sulaiman, Shukor Zailan and Lionel Lewis coming on for Qiu Li, Mustafic Fahrudin and Izwan Mahbud respectively.
Coach Avramovic was left fuming when a dubious offside call denied Singapore a goal. Shi Jia Yi played a brilliant ball to put Aleksandar Duric through. The big man squared it to an unmarked Shahril who drilled it into the net but it was ruled offside.
On 70 minutes, the newest member of the squad, Hafiz Rahim came on for Jia Yi and immediately showcased his fine dribbling skills on numerous occasions to trouble the Thai backline. The Thais were shown two yellow cards for late tackles on the nippy Geylang United winger.
As the match moved towards the final 10 minutes, the partisan crowd at the Rajamangala National Stadium were treated to some exciting end-to-end stuff as Isa Halim and Ruzaini Zainal played a neat one-two before releasing Hafiz who sent a thunderbolt towards goal, only to see the Thai goalie, Sintaweechai Hathairattanakool, palm the ball away for a corner-kick.
Lionel Lewis, who managed to go through the entire second-half with no complications on his recent groin injury, was called into action when he made two wonderful saves to deny the home side a last gasp winner.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, coach Avramovic said: “This is not the first time Thailand and Singapore played each other and both countries know each other well. I believe that this game is important for both of us as we prepare for the China game while the Thais will play Australia in the World Cup Qualifiers.
“It was an exciting and competitive game where both teams had chances. In the first half, we had more opportunities but they had chances in the second-half as well.
“It will be a difficult game against China as they have some quality players but we will go to Kunming and do our best and play our own game.”
Stopper Lionel Lewis also gave his assessment of his groin injury.
“I would first like to thank coach for giving me a good 45 minutes to play and test myself. I feel that I’m still not 100% but I’m getting there. I didn’t attempt to take any goal-kicks as we decided not to take the risk with a couple more days before the China game. As for the two saves towards the end of the game, it was part and parcel of the game and I definitely will continue to work towards full fitness when we reach Kunming,” said Lionel.
Hafiz Rahim, whose second-half appearance was his first-ever international match, was equally delighted to be given a run-out by coach Avramovic when he said: “I wasn’t nervous when my name was called up to prepare to get on the pitch. I just wanted to go out there and do what I can and test myself against the Thai defenders. It was great to be given an opportunity to represent Singapore.”
The Lions will now move on to the next phase of their trip for the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qualifier against China when they travel up to Kunming on September 26th to continue with their preparations.