By REDintern Ismail Farhan Anuar
Jalan Besar Stadium, Wednesday, December 19, 2012 — The Singapore Lions look to have one hand on a record fourth ASEAN Football Federation Championship (AFF Suzuki Cup) after a comfortable 3-1 win at home in the first leg of the final.
Singapore led 1-0 at half time after Mustafic Fahrudin scored from the penalty spot early in the first half. Adul Lahso scored an important away goal in the 59th minute before Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan sealed a two-goal advantage to bring to Bangkok for the second leg.
Tickets were sold out within the first hour after they went on sale and Singaporeans were in the stadium two hours before kick-off, packing out the 7,500-seat stadium.
The mood with regard to the often-maligned national team has changed to a reserved optimism after home fans witnessed the 3-0 win over Malaysia, the defending champions, in Kuala Lumpur, as well as the efficient dispatch of a strong Philippines side in the semi-finals.
This current squad also is the most balanced one Singapore has had since they last won the competition in 2007. Its good mix of experience and youth has managed to paper over some of the cracks that had been evident throughout the past few years. While the old guard needs to be replaced as quickly as possible, this squad has now shown that it is still very much capable of one final hurrah.
There were no surprises in the starting line-up, with Raddy sticking with his favored 4-3-3 formation. Shi Jiayi still was not back in the squad, so Isa Halim continued to start alongside Mustafic Fahrudin to provide an additional line of defense against the much-vaunted attacking prowess of the Thais who, up to this point, had been unbeaten throughout the tournament.
Singapore in their typical cavalier style at home, saw both Khairul Amri and Aleksandar Duric fire warning shots within the first few minutes of the game. The Thais were probably under the most pressure they had ever been in the competition, and after only eight minutes they conceded a penalty when right-back Piyaphon Buntao clumsily clattered into Duric. Mustafic was composed as he scored twice from the spot, after the referee ruled out his first effort because Duric moved into the penalty box before the kick.
After such a high tempo start, the game expectedly became more controlled, as both sides became more measured in their buildup play.
On 31 minutes, the Thais created the best opening of the half. Anucha Kitpongsri slipped in between the two centre backs and had only Izwan Mahbud to beat, but he could only drill his shot inches past the post.
The Thais then got the away goal they were looking for in the 59th minute. Dangerman Teerasil Dangda evaded a challenge by Baihakki before squaring the ball to an unmarked Adul Lahso whose shot past the hapless Singapore custodian Izwan Mahbud and hit the inside of the post before going in.
It was 1-1 now and Singapore now had a real concern.
But up stepped Khairul Amri just three minutes later. In the 61st minute, Duric laid off a cross to Amri who had two defenders closing on him. Amri trapped the ball and with a swift turn smashed a shot right past Kawin Thamsatchanan’s near post, leaving the Thai defenders in shock while the home crowd exploded with joy. The goal also put Amri into the history books as the first player to score in three ASEAN Football Championship finals.
Singapore’s heroics weren’t limited to the outfield players only. Izwan Mahbud was also ready to show why he can be considered one of the best keepers in Southeast Asia when he tipped Jakkapan Pornsai’s 25-yard free kick onto the crossbar to prevent the Thais from making a second comeback.
Baihakki had the last laugh when he latched onto a loose ball after some comical clearance by the Thais in injury time to seal a sensational 3-1 win for Singapore in the first leg of the 2012 Suzuki Cup final.
Singapore’s memorable win tonight was slightly dampened by the injury to Shaiful Esah deep in injury time. The player had to be stretchered off after being hit on the back of the head.
We are, in some ways, lucky to get a good result. But now it is up to us to go to Thailand and to try to score, because if we don’t it will be very, very difficult,” said Singapore head coach Raddy Avramovic, according to the official website, affsuzukicup.com.
“The Thai players have exceptionally good technique. They are capable of pushing extra players in midfield and they created big problems for us.
“Fortunately, our players kept their cool and they kept their shape and all of the players managed to play their part in the plan that we had before the game,” added Raddy.
The second leg will be played at Supachalasal Stadium, Bangkok on Saturday, December 22nd. MediaCorp will broadcast the game ‘live’ on Channel 5 at 7.55pm.