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SINGAPORE — The Singapore men's football team snatched a draw from the jaws of damaging defeat in their opening match at the Hanoi SEA Games on Saturday (7 May), scoring two late goals to come back from 0-2 down to earn a 2-2 draw against Laos at the Thien Truong Stadium.
Defender Jordan Emaviwe's 96th-minute header spared the blushes for the Young Lions, who had looked dead and buried after Laos outplayed them for large parts of the Group B match.
While the one point gained could yet prove valuable in Singapore's quest to advance out of the group stage for the first time in four SEA Games editions, the draw also meant that they must get positive results against in upcoming clashes against Thailand and Malaysia to be in the running to reach the semi-finals.
Yet, it had looked even bleaker early in the second half, as Laos stunned the Young Lions with two well-taken goals to take a deserved 2-0 lead.
Forward Ekkamai Ratxachak opened accounts in the 14th minute, when he received the ball just inside the penalty area, spun and slammed home an unstoppable shot past Zaiful Nizam.
The Singapore goalkeeper was kept busy in the first half, as his side struggled after conceding the early goal, with Shah Shahiran almost equalising with a curling shot that rebounded off the crossbar.
The Young Lions' defence, however, failed to close down Laos' Chony Wenpaserth in the 49th minute - and paid the price when the nippy forward latched onto a through ball and launched a fierce shot which eluded the diving Zaiful and nestled into goal.
It had seemed that Laos would again be the spoiler for Singapore in their opening match at the SEA Games, after also denying the Young Lions an opening victory at the 2019 Games with a goalless draw. This time though, they threatened to embarrass Singapore even further as they defended in numbers to consolidate their lead.
Yet, substitute Glenn Kweh gave Singapore a precious lifeline in the 89th minute, latching onto a poor clearance to blast home unmarked in the box.
And, just when it seemed that time had run out, up went Emaviwe in attack to use his 1.95m-tall frame to trouble the Laos defenders. And when Saifullah Akbar headed on a cross from the left deep into stoppage time, the 21-year-old Emaviwe reacted quickest to stretch out his leg and flick the ball into goal.
As Laos players slumped in disbelief at conceding the last-gasp equaliser, Singapore coach Nazri Nasir screamed in delight and hugged Saifullah in the middle of the pitch. His charges' never-say-die attitude paid off handsomely in the end, even though the road ahead has become even tougher.
Singapore will next face Thailand on Monday, before facing Cambodia on Wednesday and Malaysia next Saturday.
In the other Group B match of the evening, Malaysia stunned gold-medal favourites Thailand 2-1 with a 94th-minute winner from Azfar Fikri. Thailand were down to 10 men after defender Jonathan Kemdee was given a straight red card in the 41st minute for bringing down a Malaysian forward as the last man.