By REDintern Ismail Farhan Anuar
Supachalasal Stadium, Saturday, December 22, 2012 — Singapore went down 0-1 to Thailand but their 3-1 first-leg win in the Suzuki Cup final was enough for an overall 3-2 aggregate win to win the ASEAN Football Federation Championship for a record fourth time.
Kirati Keawsombut scored just before half time to give Thailand a much deserved lead, but a resilient defensive performance by Singapore proved just enough for them to hold on without conceding further.
Singapore’s 3-2 aggregate win mirrors their last success ASEAN success in 2007 when Khairul Amri scored a wonder goal with the outside of his foot to secure a 3-2 win on aggregate with only eight minutes left on the clock. For Thailand, this is the third time they have a final by a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.
Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic, as expected, made no changes to the side that won 3-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday. Singapore looked to nullify the threat of Jakkraphan Pornsai, the extremely dangerous winger who had tormented Singapore’s defence in the first leg.
Thailand were back to their rhythmic passing that was the trademark of their play throughout the tournament. Jakkraphan again pulled the strings in midfield, drifting everywhere in a free role due to his exceptional dribbling, passing and off the ball movements.
Singapore were content with staying deep, with Aleksandar Duric and Shahdan Sulaiman often tracking back to support their fullbacks in defence.
Singapore soon found themselves under heavy pressure, with Thailand inevitably having most of the possession and dictating most of the play. Thailand were in particular, creating their best chances by crossing deep from their right flank.
Singapore although superior in the air, were still struggling to contain the high number of crosses into the penalty area, with Theerathon Bunmathan particularly effective with his crosses.
Singapore were forced to concede successive corners and in the 14th minute, Datsakorn Thonglao’s corner was headed onto the crossbar by Jakkraphan after an uncharacteristic spill by Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud. The rebound was then successfully cleared by the Singapore defence.
The pressure was incessant and it was backs-against-the-wall stuff by Singapore as they were forced to make blocks and last-ditch tackles. Thailand were clearly getting a hold of the game, dictating play.
Jakkaraphan got close again in the 19th minute when his long-range piledriver was deflected just inches away from Izwan’s left post.
In the 23rd minute, Panupong Wongsa attacked another delicious cross by Theerathon, but as the ball bounced on the ground it lost most of its power, and it was comfortably gathered by a grateful Izwan.
Just before the break, another brilliant set piece by Theerathon was powered into the back of the net by an unmarked Kirati Keawsombut. Safuwan Baharudin was the guilty player as he completely switched off at such a crucial moment of the game.
Singapore went into the break holding a slender one-goal advantage on aggregate, and well aware that they had to start attacking to ease some of the pressure on the defence.
Singapore’s forwards were noticeably higher up the pitch in the second half. However, Thailand were still dangerous down the flanks. Thailand playmaker Jakkaraphan was practically covering every blade of the pitch as he looked to inspire Thailand to score the crucial second goal.
In the 57th minute, Singapore ironically got their only real chance of the match when Jakkaraphan made a horrible error of passing the ball straight to Khairul Amri right at the edge of the penalty area. Amri released Shahril Ishak who then squared it to the onrushing Duric, but it was brilliantly cleared by Piyapol Bantao.
In the 66th minute, Kirati had a golden opportunity to score a second after Safuwan mistimed his jump for the ball, but he could only blaze it over with only Izwan to beat.
In the 72nd minute, Teerasil made a brilliant run from left flank at the halfway line all the way to Singapore’s penalty box but he fired wildly off-target. It would have been a goal worthy of winning any game.
In the 84th minute it was another surging run from deep, this time by substitute Chanathip Songkrasin, but after brilliantly getting past four players his shot was palmed away by the alert Izwan at his near post.
Thailand almost stole it at the death, with Apipu Suntornpanavej’s shot being deflected inches away from the post with Izwan Mahbud rooted to the spot.
That proved to be Thailand’s last chance at winning, and after four minutes of injury time, the referee blew the final whistle to declare Singapore as champions of Southeast Asia after a 3-2 aggregate win.
With this win, it also makes Raddy Avramovic the most successful coach in this region with three ASEAN titles to his name.
Malaysia won the Fair Play award while Thai forward Teerasil Dangda won the Golden Boot with five goals. Singapore midfielder Shahril Ishak won the Most Valuable Player award.
“In some ways we were a bit lucky and without luck and the determination of the players to win the trophy, I do not think we would have achieved this victory,” said Raddy on the affsuzukicup.com website.
“I really must say a big thanks to the players. In the end they did everything on the field. In some ways it is good working with players who trust you and I trust them.
“In the end they achieved what I was telling them that we could achieve and that is good,” added Raddy.
Raddy also confirmed that he was resigning from his position and the match against Thailand was his final game in charge.