FOR 10 days, they carried the hopes of the football-mad host nation on their youthful backs.
But when the pressure reached its apex in the Youth Olympics football semi-finals, Singapore’s Under-15 squad buckled. The nervous-looking home side went down 0-2 to Haiti at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, condemning the Cubs to a bronze-medal play-off against Montenegro on Wednesday.
A sending-off, a late penalty and poor finishing conspired to sink Singapore and the capacity 6,000 crowd who had turned up to back the Cubs.
Right from the kick-off, the boys looked a shadow of the team who beat Zimbabwe and Montenegro – raising hopes of a final appearance and at least a silver medal.
Instead, it was the Haitians – hammered 0-9 by Bolivia in their opener – who hustled and harried their way to an unlikely re-match against their tormentors from South America.
‘Credit to Haiti, they played well, they deserved to win, they worked very hard, they were more hungry than us,’ admitted assistant coach Abdullah Noor.
Playmaker Hanafi Mohd Akbar and striker Muhaimin Suhaimi – impressive in Singapore’s earlier games – were denied space to make telling passes by the Haiti’s five-man midfield.
Mistakes crept into Singapore’s game, and it was a calamitous one by goalkeeper Fashah Rosedin that handed the initiative to their opponents.
Three minutes from the interval, the Singapore Sports School custodian flapped at a driving shot from defender Bertrand Vilgrain, deflecting it onto the path of Robert Surpris. The Haitian midfielder duly headed into an empty net.
Fashah was guilty of a similar howler against Montenegro. There was still time for his teammates to claw back – but the Cubs were wasteful.
They spurned clear opportunities to score – two of which were missed in quick succession by Ammirul Mazlan and Brandon Koh in the opening half.
Cries of ‘We want goal’ from the crowd late in the second half went unanswered, as the Haitians looked to break up Singapore’s fluidity with some time-wasting tactics.
The Cubs were buried two minutes from time, when Illyas Lee bundled over Haitian forward Sandino Saint Jean in the box and earned himself a red card. Captain Daniel Gedeon converted the spot-kick to confirm Singapore’s doom.
For the Haitians, the unlikely victory came seven months after an earthquake devastated their country, and just six weeks after their team was formed.
‘The win is good for the people of Haiti, but the competition is not about winning,’ said Haiti coach Pierre Sonche. ‘To come here after the earthquake, it was good to see people being so friendly to us. It was unlucky we had to meet Singapore.’
Singapore captain Jeffrey Lightfoot insisted his teammates will do their best to recover from this setback. Said the defender: ‘There’s still a bronze medal for us to play for.