Team Singapore's Shahfiq Ghani (centre) celebrates with his teammates after scoring their first goal against Palestine as the two teams met in the a first round match. Singapore won 2-1 (Photo by Joseph Nair / Sport Singapore)
Aide Iskandar certainly did not lie when he said that the Lions would blitz their opponents from the starting whistle, and that they had been training extra hard in their set pieces, for these two factors were combined in equal measure as Team Singapore stunned Palestine in the second minute with a goal from a brilliant freekick during their Asian Games Group C football match.
The Singaporeans forced a turnover of possession within seconds of the kick-off by the Palestinians, and soon drew a foul outside the penalty area as they stormed forward in search of an early lead. Shahfiq Ghani then despatched a masterfully executed freekick to beat Palestine goalkeeper.
Palestine had already qualified for the next round of the competition following their victories over Oman and Tajikistan, but they were not resting on their laurels as they pressed hard and high up the field. But that seemed to allow more space for the pacey Sahil Suhami to run at the defenders on the counterattack.
Just 16 minutes later, Team Singapore extended their lead in the exact same fashion, except this freekick saw the ball curling even more devilishly into the top corner. It was such a great strike that it even got Football Association of Singapore President Zainudin Nordin up on his feet and cheering.
The problems that plagued the Lions in their match against Oman – a lack of focus and sloppy passing – resurfaced from the 30th minute as Team Singapore scrambled several times to clear the ball from their goal mouth. Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was forced to make a stunning save in the 38th minute when Palestine's Helal Mousa struck a fantastic goal-bound effort.
Team Singapore's Nazrul Nazri (centre) vies for the ball with Palestine's Jaber Abdallah (left) and Tareq Abugheneima Wafaa (right) as the two teams met in the a first round match (Photo by Joseph Nair / Sport Singapore)
Palestine came out charging in the second half, and the Singapore goalie again denied the opposition with a good save using his legs. Team Singapore centre back Safuwan Baharudin then attempted to score with an audacious lob from his own half in the 69th minute, but it unfortunately landed just wide of the Palestine goal.
The Middle East side was rewarded for their strong pressing as they clawed a goal back in the 82nd minute through Suad Ahmed, but the Lions dug deep and held out for the 2-1 win.
Despite what was one of the best displays by the national side this year, Team Singapore was eliminated from the competition as Tajikistan scored a late winner against Oman, meaning that the Lions finished third in the table.
“The boys are disappointed and I feel sorry for them. They really wanted to advance to face Iraq,” said Aide. “But at the same time, I'm really proud of them. They showed great grit and determination tonight.”
Aide also believes that the impressive display on Sunday was a clear indicator that Singapore is able to take on some of the better teams in Asia.
He said: “You can see the results from this campaign – we didn't get hammered in any match and managed to score three against Oman. This clearly shows that we can clearly compete with higher ranked teams in the region.
“Regardless of this result today, we can go home with our heads held high.”