Thailand’s ambitious plans of qualifying for Saturday’s 41st Merdeka Tournament final took a step closer when they edged Singapore 1-0 at the Darul Makmur Stadium tonight.
Midfielder Pakorn Parmpak’s first half strike provided a boost to Thailand’s hopes as they picked three points in an exciting match that saw an agitated match referee Win Thut from Myanmar instructing an equally frustrated Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy to leave his bench and sit in the stands.
Singapore’s defeat, their second in three days, put paid to their hopes of advancing further in the Merdeka Tournament while Thailand consolidated its position with four points in the bag following the 1-1 draw against Myanmar last Saturday.
With the threat of dark clouds hovering over the Darul Makmur Stadium an hour before play, that fear soon dissipated as strong winds blew over in time for the start of an exciting encounter between the two nations battling to stay in contention for Saturday’s final.
Singapore made four changes to their starting line-up today – bringing in third-choice goalkeeper Neezam Abdul Aziz as replacement for Mohamed Syazwan Buhari who has returned home for National Service duty, defender Mohd Al-Qaasimy Abdul Rahman for the suspended Afiq Yunos, and midfielders Faris Ramli and Nazarul Nazri.
Singapore midfielder Mohammad Khairul Nizam (No 10) battles for the ball against Thailand in the 41st Merdeka Tournament at the Darul Makur Stadium today.
On the opposite end, Thailand, in search for its first Merdeka Tournament winner’s medal since the inception of one of Asia’s most prestigious football events 40 years ago, rested goalkeeper Arikhan Same who was in the thick of action in the 1-1 draw against Myanmar on Saturday night in favour of Abeefaesan Ya.
Thailand head coach Kairung Threejagsang said his tactical strategy paid dividends and the three points earned tonight will come useful when they face the Malaysians on Wednesday.
“Singapore started off slowly, went into defensive play early in the game and this prompted us to go on the offensive. I am satisfied with the result although we could have won with a bigger margin,” said Kairung.
However, Singapore assistant coach K. Balagumaran added that the early onslaught by Thailand changed the match tempo but acknowledged that they lost to a team with several seniors and experience players.
“We were just unlucky to give away that goal. There were chances that came our way but were wasted. Overall, I believe Neezam played well but needs more exposure,” said Balagumaran.
The match started on a cautious note but as the day’s proceedings continued it was the Thais who had the bulk of possession as they mounted numerous attacks through their fast and furious strike force of Pakorn from the left flank, Pinyo Inpinit and Chayawat Srinawong from the middle.
Thailand defender Kithpom Boonsan (No 3) tussles for the ball against Singapore in the 41st Merdeka Tournament at the Darul Makmur Stadium today.
The first real threat for Singapore came in the 27th minute from Pakorn who tested a nervy Neezam with a teasing grounder inside the box which was aptly tucked into his safe arms. But Neezam’s troubles, and that of Singapore, did not stop here. There was more to come.
Thailand went ahead in the 33rd minute through another of Pakorn’s cleverly manoeuvred moves. Racing down the left flank he let fly a 30-metre right-footed powerful shot which sailed past an outstretched and baffled Neezam, dipping into the left corner of the net.
The second half was filled with high drama as the Thais continued their onslaught only to squander the many chances that came their way. The most glaring of it was in the 54th minute when Kithpom shot wide with just Neezam in his way.
However, the Singaporeans managed to find their footing in the 56th minute and for the first time had a real good look at the opponent’s goalmouth but substitute Muhammad Raihan Abdul Rahim’s shot hit the bar and went over, much to Thailand’s relief.
But the night turned out to be one of disappointment for Sundramoorthy, and Singapore, who now face Myanmar at the Temerloh Stadium on Wednesday night with just pride at stake.