Asia FIFA World Cup

Thailand, Singapore Earn Credible WC Qualifying Draws

Southeast Asian sides Thailand and Singapore managed to earn themselves credible draws against heavy favorites in Thursday’s World Cup qualifying matches, with Thailand forcing hosts South Korea to a 1-1 stalemate and Singapore recovering from 2-0 down to drawing 2-2 with China at the National Stadium in Kallang.

Under the leadership of South Korea U-23 head coach Hwang Sun-hong, following the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann, South Korea seized the lead three minutes before half-time at the Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur talisman Son Heung-min was the key figure in South Korea’s opener, with the captain converting from close range to set the hosts on course for their third consecutive qualifying victory.

However, the boisterous crowd fell silent in the 61st minute as Suphanat Mueanta, staying onside, rifled a shot past the exposed goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo to level the score for Thailand.

Despite numerous opportunities to secure the winning goal, South Korea failed to capitalize against a resilient Thailand defense.

South Korea maintain their position atop Group C  with seven points, while Thailand, hold onto second place with four points. The two sides will meet again next week at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok.

Meanwhile in Singapore, the Lions, in their first match underneath new head coach Tsutomu Ogura, suffered a first half setback after the visiting Chinese stormed to a 2-0 lead.

Heavy favorites in this tie, China immediately went on the offensive from the start, with former Espanyol man Wu Lei finding the net with a powerful header past Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny in the 10th minute.

Ogura’s team exerted significant pressure, yet their opponents remained composed, skillfully playing out from the back multiple times.

Singapore found themselves indebted to Hassan midway through the first half when he thwarted a feeble penalty from Wu Lei after Nazrul Nazari was penalized for handball in the box.

This save seemed to energize the Lions, who launched several attacks thereafter, with midfielder Shah Shahiran narrowly missing with a half-volley.

However, just as Singapore was about to enter half-time trailing, Wu Lei struck again in the dying moments of the first half, capitalizing on Hassan’s rebound from a powerful shot.

Once a powerhouse of Southeast Asian football, Singapore had experienced a state of decline for the past few years. Ogura was given the almighty task of restoring Singapore’s place amongst the region’s elite and he wasn’t intimidated by his first task of handling a China side that, while still lagging behind the likes of Japan and South Korea, are still a major powerhouse  within Asian football. Ogura’s halftime directive was clear: remain fearless and execute our game plan.

The Lions responded accordingly.

The hosts broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute when a long pass from Lionel Tan found Faris Ramli, with the Tampines Rovers man managing to slot the ball past China’s Yan Junling.

With over 40 minutes remaining, the visitors continued to pose a threat, particularly through Fernandinho on Singapore’s left flank.

Then, another substitute made his mark as Madura United’s Jacob Mahler struck a goal in the 81st minute, much to the delight of the home supporters. Across the stadium, a significant contingent of Chinese fans were left stunned.

Instead of settling for a draw, the Lions pushed for victory but were unable to secure a historic result. They were also denied a potential penalty late in the game when Safuwan Baharudin appeared to be obstructed in the box.

Despite the draw, Singapore remains at the bottom of Group C. Next week, in Tianjin, the Lions will aim to improve upon their performance against their formidable opponents.