The Philippine Azkals were left to rue a "crazy" three-minute span that cost them dearly against host nation Singapore in their first match of the AFF Suzuki Cup on Wednesday night.
In front of a mostly-pro Singapore crowd at the National Stadium, the Azkals produced a gritty display that frustrated the home side for an hour.
The breakthrough for Singapore came in the 61st minute when their captain, Harris Harun, pounced on poor marking inside the box by the Azkals to nudge the ball past Kevin Hansen. Singapore doubled their lead just two minutes later when Faris Ramli finished off a counter.
The Philippines pulled back a goal, thanks to a header from the debuting Amin Nazari in the 69th minute, but despite a flurry of attempts in the final 20 minutes they failed to grab a point.
Stewart Hall, who is coaching the Azkals in cooperation with Scott Cooper, acknowledged that it was a disappointing result. It marked the first time that the Azkals lost to Singapore since the second leg of the semifinals of the 2012 Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals had slightly more possession (53.1% to 46.9%), but fewer shots on target (4-7).
"I didn't think we'd get beaten, to be honest. So, disappointed that we have got beaten. Because if you look at it, we got beaten in three minutes," Hall told reporters.
"We've had a crazy, silly three minutes, and thrown away 87 minutes of hard work. But that's football, you have to learn from that," he added.
Nonetheless, Hall is still optimistic of their chances to reach the semifinals, although the team is aware that they are in a must-win situation for the rest of the group stage. The Azkals play Timor Leste on December 11, Thailand on December 14, and Myanmar on December 18.
Singapore is currently on top of Group A with six points in two games, followed by Thailand with three points from one game. Myanmar has three points in two games, while Timor Leste has lost both of its assignments so far.
"I've just said (to the players), it's hard for me to be critical after a performance like that. They know, the players know we've lost the game in three minutes, they know that," said Hall. "The players who've not marked correctly on set pieces have already put their hands up and said, 'Look, my fault, I'm sorry.' So that's a good attitude from the players, that's really positive moving forward."
"I think we know now, that we probably gotta win three games to go through, or if we're lucky, two wins and a draw. So we know that, we know where we are, and what's stacked against us," he added. "But, as long as the attitude is like that, we have a chance. As long as the attitude is as good as that, we have a chance."
What gives Hall reason to hope is that the Azkals showed they had the quality to be competitive, despite a less than ideal build-up to the Suzuki Cup. Moreover, he commended the players for keeping their head up after conceding two goals in quick succession.
"After that (three crazy minutes), credit to the players, we got up again, we changed things a little, we got up again. I thought our attitude in the last 20 minutes, 25 minutes was excellent, and we could have easily equalized," said Hall.
"I'm pleased with that, that's something to build on."