Singapore in eleventh heaven
Theng Wai Mun
Noh Alam Shah scoring his seventh goal sepak-takraw style.
Noh Alam Shah inspired Singapore’s biggest ever win in international football as they overran Laos 11-0 in an ASEAN Football Championship Group B match on Monday.
The 26-year-old striker scored a personal record seven goals, while four others also found the net to send Singapore top of the group, level on points with Indonesia.
Earlier in the evening, Indonesia needed a late goal to snatch a 1-1 draw against Vietnam, thereby claiming four points ahead of their showdown with Singapore on Wednesday.
But Radojko Avramovic’s men gave themselves a huge psychological advantage ahead of that match, as they exorcized their goalscoring demons in sensational style.
Singapore sent out a strong signal of intent as Alam Shah partnered Indra Sahdan up front, the latter donning the armband as Aide Iskandar and S. Subramani were rested.
They faced a Laos side unchanged from their opening match two days ago, where they managed to claim a 1-0 lead over Indonesia at the break before conceding three goals.
The seemingly heroic achievement of netting first that day did come at a cost, as Laos, none of whose players had yet celebrated their 24th birthday, looked jaded against a physically fitter Singapore side.
Indra, still fresh after an uneventful 15-minute appearance on Saturday, was particularly lively in the early moments, as he constantly darted around looking to create chances.
The Lions went ahead just ten minutes into the match, Indra’s left-sided cross gliding towards Ridhuan Muhammad as Sengphachan Pounthisanh hopelessly fumbled his catch.
Realizing he was gifted the chance to break his senior duck, Ridhuan swivelled around to claim the ball before slamming it past leftback Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya.
Just a minute later, Alam Shah doubled Singapore’s lead by heading Mustafic Fahrudin’s lobbed pass from a central position, leaving Sengphachan grasping at air.
From that point, the signs began to show that Laos were in for a bad night, as Singapore as a whole, and Alam Shah in particular, looked well-poised to turn it on for the fans.
Heading a Daniel Bennett cross into the crossbar on 14 minutes, he then shot weakly at Sengphachan not long later after using his strong frame to outmuscle Khamxay Phakasy.
But Alam Shah would not be denied a third time in the 24th minute, when Shi Jiayi headed Ridhuan’s cross from the right back across the face of the goal. Sneaking in from the blind side, the hitman was on hand to stoop down and nod the ball home.
Sengphachan was by now a bag of nerves, and Laos coach Saythong Syphasay opted to swap the 19-year-old on the half-hour for 18-year-old Phoutpasong Sengdalavong.
The move looked sound enough initially, as the Lions – and their fans at the National Stadium – went quiet for the rest of the first half, apart from Precious Emuejeraye’s infrequent loud shouts meant for his teammates.
But it would merely be the calm before the second-half storm, which started inside two minutes as Shahril Ishak tapped home from Hafiz Osman’s ground pass on the right.
Alam Shah then completed his hat-trick just after the hour mark, bundling home a low pass from the left by Khairul Amri, who had come on at the break for Ridhuan.
Amri got his name on the scoresheet in the 71st minute thanks to another great cross by senior debutant Hafiz, before Alam Shah added two more in the 72nd and 76th minutes.
Substitute Itimi Dickson then made it nine on 79, racing ahead of his marker on the right to slam Amri’s pass high into the roof of Phoutpasong’s net.
With double figures looking a delicious prospect, the partisan crowd began to chant “we want ten” even as Avramovic signalled for his players to take things easy and slow down.
The Serbian’s words were heeded as a little game of keep-ball ensued, and at one point the Lions maintained uninterrupted possession for two minutes, until Bennett’s forward pass to Amri went behind the forward and to the feet of a Laos defender.
The Singapore fans’ wishes were eventually granted in the 88th minute, when Amri, playing some of the most purposeful football he has shown on home soil, lobbed a high ball on the left for Alam Shah to head home.
But there was still enough time for the Tampines Rovers man to deliver his pièce de résistance, asepak takraw-style right-footed strike that went in off the horizontal after Amri’s initial shot had struck the same spot on the bar and bounced back out.
The rout was now complete, the destruction total, and some 6,000 Singaporeans were left absolutely delirious as they sang their way out of the National Stadium.
And why not? When Wednesday comes and they return with their friends for the decisive match against Indonesia, they will be cheering on a team that has become reacquainted with that scoring feeling – and will surely do everything to make sure it stays.
Players praised as Avramovic sees “harder times” ahead
Singapore national coach Radojko Avramovic was pleased with his players – particularly seven-goal hero Noh Alam Shah – following their national record 11-0 victory over Laos.
The result was Singapore’s most emphatic win at international level, a fact that Avramovic claimed he did not know when he spoke to reporters after the match.
The Serbian then humbly lauded his team for “doing a good job”, singling Alam Shah out for special mention before also praising Khairul Amri and Hafiz Osman, who earned his first cap as regular rightback S. Subramani was rested.
The ease with which Singapore triumphed ensured Hafiz, who provided two assists, would have a peaceful introduction to international football, although a tougher contest against Indonesia is likely to see Subramani and other veterans recalled to active duty.
“I thought we were lucky to score as many as we did, and it is good that many players were involved,” said Avramovic of the match.
“The only mystery to me is why Alam scored so many goals. After a while I was telling him, ‘Don’t run, just stay!’
“But anyway, I think he had a good game. So did Khairul Amri, who has realized that he is an important part of this team and can provide the touches that will help others, which is as valuable as scoring goals himself.
“Hafiz Osman did a good job too in his first game standing in for Mani, but we will have a much harder time against Indonesia. In that game, the experienced ones like Mani and Aide (Iskandar) will come back.”
Alam Shah was left ‘in shock’ after his superb individual performance, although he was quick to deflect the attention to his teammates, who he felt had put in the harder work.
The Tampines Rovers striker has now overtaken Indra Sahdan as the most prolific current Lions player after his feat, but still considers the 27-year-old and Amri as players he finds ‘great’ to work with.
“The win was not all about me; it was about the hard work by the rest,” said Alam Shah.
“I have to credit my goals to all my teammates. All of them were easy goals for me, but the way they ran and worked to create them was just tremendous.
“I was hoping the ball wouldn’t go in so often though, because I was feeling sorry for the Laos players. Today my luck was good, and it feels great to play with Indra and Amri.
“I’ve a good partnership with Indra, and Amri is coming in and willing to fight. It’s coming together just in time for all of us, and I hope it will stay against Indonesia.”
Singapore: Lionel Lewis, Hafiz Osman, Baihakki Khaizan, Precious Emuejeraye, Daniel Bennett, Ridhuan Muhammad (Khairul Amri 46), Shi Jiayi, Mustafic Fahrudin (Isa Halim 57), Shahril Ishak, Indra Sahdan (Itimi Dickson 64), Noh Alam Shah.
Laos: Sengphachan Pounthisanh (Phoutpasong Sengdalavong 30), Chandalaphone Liemvisay, Souksamy Manhmanyvong (Soulivanh Rathsachack 59), Khamxay Phakasy, Saynakhonevieng Phommapanya, Sisomphone Sathongyot, Sounthalay Xaysongkham, Phayvanh Louanglath, Dao Khotsaya, Kaysone Soukhavong (Kita Sysvanh 68), Visay Phaphouvanin.