Singapore 0 - Australia 3

It was not the victory every home fan had wished for, but Singapore's final football match at the National Stadium saw the team present a farewell gift of ambition and hope.

Even in defeat to Australia on Saturday evening – by a 3-0 margin that could and should have been much closer – the Lions could leave their dressing room in Kallang proud of an effort that sadly did not have the good fortune to match it.

Statisticians would faithfully record Socceroos striker Mark Viduka's pair of second-half headers, in-between which Harry Kewell's cool and simple strike was sandwiched.

But at a stadium where Singapore had faced and overcome so many regional adversaries in the past 34 years, the Lions put up a performance fitting enough to echo the spirit of a new sports hub that holds the promise of an even greater future.

No fewer than 45,000 turned up to say their goodbyes to a place that gave them countless memories, many of which featured football clashes against opponents from near neighbours Malaysia.

In recognition of that, stars of years past from both sides of the Causeway strutted their stuff in a curtain-raising friendly that finished in a 1-1 draw, Dollah Salleh scoring a penalty to cancel out R. Suriamurthi's strike as nostalgic cravings were sated once more.

Over the years, though, Singapore have moved on to opponents and aspirations from further afield. Indeed, as captain Aide Iskandar led the Lions in singing Majulah Singapura before kickoff, the mix of emotion and excitement in the stands was palpable.

Any concerns over the players' nerves against a country placed 83 whole spots ahead of them in the FIFA rankings lasted no more than three minutes, when Viduka was bumped off the ball in a fair shoulder-to-shoulder joust with Precious Emuejeraye.

Another five minutes later, Singapore came close to celebrating a shock early lead, when Indra Sahdan skied his connection to a free kick near the right corner flag by Shi Jiayi.

Indra's miss was by no means a rare opportunity, as Ridhuan Muhammad took too long with a chance from just outside the box in the ninth minute and was denied the chance to pull the trigger by an alert Australian defence.

So industrious and determined were Singapore's attackers, in fact, that they kept seeking and finding openings like these against a backline that boasted such English Premiership stars as rightback Brett Emerton, centreback Lucas Neill and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

To be sure, Graham Arnold's side were by no means taking a casual attitude towards this game, and Precious and Daniel Bennett in particular had to be at their defensive best to keep their visitors at bay.

But Lionel Lewis was clearly the less busy of the two custodians in the first half, needing only to put Viduka off a 17th-minute chip and quickly gather a through pass ahead of Brett Holman in the 36th.

In contrast, Schwarzer was frequently summoned into action as the Lions kept punching through the central defensive combination of Neill and Patrick Kisnorbo, who looked uncomfortable as a partnership compared to the hosts' pair of Aide and Precious.

Kisnorbo in particular could thank his lucky stars for not conceding a goal shortly after the half-hour mark, having given away a dangerous free kick for fouling Khairul Amri, who was giving the Leicester City man plenty of trouble with his pace.

Big-occasion man Indra meanwhile repeatedly came close to keeping up his reputation, but Schwarzer foiled him in a one-on-one on 35 minutes, caught a good ranged shot in the 39th and then watched his powerful header hit the crossbar one minute from the break.

Being level at half-time with a team that had played in the World Cup 12 months ago might seem flattering on paper, but such was the Lions' enterprising approach play that, in the eyes of Australian journalists in the press box, they actually deserved better.

Thus, even though Viduka's headed goal in the 52nd minute off a Jason Culina cross was greeted with a sigh of inevitability, many had good reason to believe that the visitors' lead could be cancelled out.

Amri came close to doing that almost immediately, racing on to meet Shi's low cross against all odds, but he could not steer the ball into the net. Moments later, he would be denied again, this time by the foot of a goalpost after turning his defender outside the box.

The Lions then had a penalty appeal waved away by Japanese referee Masaaki Iemoto on the hour, after the extremely hardworking Shi was muscled down in the box while trying to meet Indra's left-sided cross.

Again and again Radojko Avramovic's men looked short on luck, although sometimes it was more a case of simple overexcitement leading to powerful but inaccurate shooting.

The Lions' frustrations in attack were compounded in the 76th minute as Kewell, who had come on as a substitute for Mark Bresciano, nailed the result for the Socceroos with a slow shot so precisely placed that Lewis simply had no hope of reaching for it in time.

Yet, even at 0-2 down, Singapore's attacking ambitions were never truly abandoned, as they kept on going forward in a show of unswerving courage.

But they were ultimately unsuccessful, Shi's 81st-minute curler and Shahril Ishak's headed effort five minutes later both finding no way past an imposing Schwarzer.

In a way, it was perhaps cruel for the Lions not to beat the 34-year-old even once, considering how they had thrown everything at him after repeatedly getting past his defence with unexpected ease.

When Viduka then crept ahead of his marker to nod Kewell's left-sided cross past Lewis and make it 3-0 two minutes from time, one could feel Avramovic's disappointment at facing a final score that untrained observers could read to suggest a gulf in class.

Those who could see beyond the superficiality of scorelines, however, would acknowledge that the difference between the two teams was less than clear, and the hosts had come realistically close to matching their opponents in most if not all areas.

And if they can keep up their rate of growth in recent times, it would be reasonable to suggest that, should the Socceroos be invited to visit Kallang again in 2011, Singapore may well celebrate the opening of its new Sports Hub with a fully deserving victory.

Singapore national coach Radojko Avramovic hailed his team's match against Australia as a positive example of attacking football from both sides, even though the Lions were at the wrong end of a 0-3 final score.

Praising his players for their willingness to go on the attack against the Socceroos, he felt they were ‘unlucky' not to score despite creating many chances, but will keep on trying.

"I think it was an excellent open game from both sides, which was good for people to come and see," said the 57-year-old at a post-match press conference.

"It was not easy, but we tried very hard and created a few chances. But at the end, it was a case of Australia showing why their squad has 19 players based in Europe, and that was the difference.

"Maybe there should have been a few more goals from Australia's side and from our side as well, but that's what football is about – creating chances to score goals. We were unlucky not to score any tonight, but next time we will try again."

While the Serbian was pleased with his players' general enthusiasm in attack, he also stressed that they had room for improvement in order to convert that enthusiasm into goals for the team.

"Tonight we played our best attacking game this week, but we had no results!" he commented with a wry smile.

"I would have preferred a worse performance with one or two goals. But I think we just didn't have enough patience at one or two moments, making the wrong decision on when to shoot or when not to shoot.

"Australia showed some good examples of these things, like when (Mark) Viduka gave us problems with his return passes. But we didn't sit back and wait to concede against these World Cup teams, we attacked and tried to score; that's good from the boys.

"Generally, I can't say that the players did badly. They worked hard for 90 minutes, and I hope this game showed them that they must work harder still towards a better future."

Australia coach Graham Arnold lauded Singapore for a performance that he felt largely matched that from his side, and further opined that Singapore's players have the quality to play in Australia's professional football league.

"My team worked very hard this week and gave the performance I expected, but it was also a great performance from Singapore," he said of the match.

"They really tested us and were very unlucky, I must say. At the end of the first half, it could have easily been 2-0 to Singapore.

"The players no doubt were thrilled to play against players of the calibre of (Harry) Kewell, Viduka, (Vince) Grella and (Mark) Bresciano. That should give Singapore, especially their young players, a lot of confidence going forward."

When asked whether any of the Lions had impressed him during the match, Arnold replied without hesitation "All of them!"

"I think the players in this team have what it takes to play A-League quality football. Some clubs in Australia should come up here and have a look, because there's definitely some good quality in here."

Written by Theng Wai Mun