Harris Harun (in red, no. 14) started the opening game against Thailand in his usual central midfield role but ended up as centre back after the tactical withdrawal of Baihakki Khaizan. (Photo by VoxSports)
While the Singapore National Football Team might have ended up on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline in their ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group B opener against Thailand on Sunday, they can certainly take heart from their performance.
Khairul Amri continued his knack of scoring against Thailand as he netted the Lions’ only goal in the 19th minute to cancel out Mongkol Thosakrai’s opener – his third against the War Elephants in the Suzuki Cup.
But with three minutes remaining, defender Safuwan Baharudin then conceded a penalty which Charyl Yannic Chappuis successfully converted to propel Thailand to the top of Group B after the first round of matches.
After scoring in two Suzuki Cup finals for Singapore to lead them to glory, it was no surprise that talismanic striker Amri was one player in the Singapore side who stood out.
Khairul Amri (no. 19) being congratulated by his team mates after scoring the equaliser. (Photo by VoxSports)
Leading the line well during the game while constantly trying to bring his teammates into play with his excellent hold-up play, Amri capped it off with his sixth goal in his last ten appearances for the Lions.
Despite his recent superb scoring record for the Lions, a clearly downcast Amri was not celebrating for obvious reasons.
“Yes, we scored the goal but it’s not enough, Amri said. “I think a draw was a good result, but to accept defeat, it was hard to take.”
Combining with Amri was Shaiful Esah, his former Tampines Rovers colleague.
While Amri now plies his trade for LionsXII while Shaiful still plays for Tampines, the telepathic relationship between the two was still evident as the latter supplied the cross for Amri to head home the equaliser.
Shaiful had in fact not been in the national fold at the beginning of the year but managed to force his way back into reckoning to eventually make the Suzuki Cup squad.
Now Singapore’s automatic first-choice left-back once again, Shaiful expressed his desire to show the nation why he deserves it.
“It’s good to be back, I’m trying to do my best for the country,” said the left-back.
“It’s a hard fight for both teams, unlucky it was a handball and [we gave away] a penalty to them. We will be ready for the next game, now we have to recover fast. We are still in the tournament, definitely. We just have to win the remaining two games and I think we can go into the semis."
According to Shaiful, It was instinct which resulted in the cross and he was delighted it worked out.
“I noticed there was one fewer player [in the box] so I tried to lob the defence and we managed to score the goal,” he explained.
Despite the loss, Head Coach, Singapore National Team, Bernd Stange, was meanwhile encouraged by the Lions’ display and remained optimistic.
Despite the loss, Singapore's head coach, Bernd Stange, remains optimistic and was encouraged by the Lions’ display. (Photo by VoxSports)
“It is amazing to see how we performed to the end, and I think we deserved a draw,” said the German. “It is hard to come back against a team like Thailand but we did it."
“We are all proud of our team, we have good defending and we have a good chances to get a better result. At the end of the day, I felt we were unlucky but that is football.”
“The tournament is not over, it starts now. We have Myanmar and the derby with Malaysia and we need our fans , we need to sell our product and we did that today."
Stange also gave credit to the teams as well as the 32,148 fans - majority of whom were Singapore fans - who had turned up in throngs to support their teams.
The Singapore fans turned up in numbers to cheer the Lions on. (Photo by VoxSports)
"[It was a] high intensity game, 90 mins of power energy from both teams,” he said.
“Today I [finally] know what the Kallang Roar means, it was great support from the fans over the 90 minutes”
The Lions will now look to return to winning ways against Myanmar on Wednesday at the National Stadium where nothing less than three points will do if they are to stand a chance of progressing into the last four.
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