SINGAPORE – Out to clinch a historic spot at the Under-23 Asian Cup, the Young Lions saw their hopes vanish as they were beaten 5-1 by defending champions South Korea at a the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (Oct 31).
The odds were stacked against Singapore before kickoff after Timor-Leste beat Philippines 1-0 in the earlier Group H match.
Only the group winner and the four best second-placed teams from the 11 groups will advance to the tournament proper in Uzbekistan next year. As some groups comprise only three teams, results against the bottom-placed sides do not count in determining the four best runners-up.
With the hosts needing an improbable win against the Koreans to qualify, there was some surprise when they started with a defensive-looking 5-4-1, and omitted playmaker Joel Chew, who has been outstanding in this campaign.
And the gulf in quality between the next generation of Singapore footballers and Asia’s best was evident, as the faster, stronger and sharper Koreans took just two minutes to carve apart the Singapore defence. They raced to a 2-0 lead after six minutes thanks to goals from Kim Chan and Cho San-jun.
While Glenn Kweh scuffed a shot straight at Lee Gwang-yeon in the 14th minute, the match was effectively over by half-time as Park Jeong-in poached a brace through crosses from the right flank.
The Young Lions reverted to a back four and introduced Chew in the second half, although the South Koreans made it 5-0 seven minutes after the restart through their impressive right-back Choi Jun, one of six players in the team that were runners-up in the Under-20 World Cup in 2019.
Chew did make an impact as he led the 57th-minute counterattack that ended with left-back Nur Adam Abdullah placing a lovely right-footer from outside the box which Lee Gwang-yeon could only tip into his own goal, giving the local fans among the 993 spectators something to cheer about.
Despite the loss, the national selectors do have some bright sparks to consider for the future, with the emergence of Kweh, Chew, Adam and 1.93m centre-back Jordan Emaviwe, who have impressed in this tournament.
The Young Lions’ next task is set to be next year’s SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam followed by the Sep 10-25 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, though the team have yet to be selected by the Singapore National Olympic Council for both events.