Bangkok – Singapore lifted the AFF Suzuki Cup for a record fourth time despite losing 1-0 to Thailand in the second leg of the final at the Supachalasai Stadium on Saturday.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg in Singapore, the Thais dominated the match and they cut the deficit when Kirati Keawsombat headed in a Theerathon Bunmathan corner just before the interval.
But Singapore held on despite intense pressure from the home side in the closing minutes for a 3-2 aggregate victory, which matched the scoreline from 2007 when they also beat the Thais in the final.
Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic said that his team deserved to win over the two legs and could rightly claim to be the best team in Asean.
“Why not (call ourselves the best team in the region),” he said. “I think we deserved the title. We dominated the first game and scored enough goals to win the title.
“It was a long campaign and in the end the best two teams played the final. I do not think Thailand can be called losers. They tried their best tonight and we tried our best in Singapore. We beat them there and they beat us tonight.”
The Serbian confirmed speculation that Saturday’s match would be his last in charge of Singapore.
“Yes, it is going to end tonight,” said Avramovic, who took over as Singapore coach in 2003 and led the Lions to consecutive Asean titles in 2004 and 2007.
“I have many happy memories of my years in charge of Singapore. But in the end it is the players who have done us all proud and I was very proud that I was their coach.”
Thailand coach Winfried Schafer said that he could not have asked for any more from his team.
“I would like to congratulate Singapore and also congratulate my team,” he said. “Everybody gave 100 per cent and pushed themselves to the limit but it was not enough.
“With a little bit of luck we could have got the second goal but that is football. The team tried their hardest. At the end of the game Theerathon Bunmathan was in tears he was so disappointed.”
Having fielded the same starting line-up for the previous three games, Schafer was forced into a change with forward Kirati Keawsombat brought in to replace the injured Anucha Kitpongsri.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s first 11 was unchanged for a fourth straight game with three players who started in the second leg of the 2007 final at Supachalasai – Daniel Bennett, Fahrudin Mustafic and Shahril Ishak – lining up again alongside Khairul Amri, who had scored the winner in that final after coming on as a substitute.
The Lions nearly worked an opening after 10 minutes but an excellent tackle by Theerathon denied Shahdan Sulaiman a clear shot on goal from 15 metres.
However, it was a rare moment of worry for the Thai defence in the first half as they took the game to their opponents in an effort to overcome the two-goal deficit from the first leg.
They pressed Singapore back for long periods and almost went ahead after 15 minutes when goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud spilled a corner by Datsakorn Thonglao. The ball came to Jakkapan Pornsai who directed his header against the crossbar with Izwan out of position.
Jakkapan then appeared to be barged over in the box by Shaiful Esah but Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov waved off the penalty appeals.
The Thais piled on the pressure with Datsakorn curling a free-kick from 22 metres over the crossbar, Phichitpoing Choeichiu seeing his his shot from 25 metres deflected wide off a defender and Panupong Wingsa heading a cross by Theerathon straight at Izwan.
Just before the half-hour, Datsakorn played a through ball ball to Teerasil but the striker stumbled on the uneven surface as he tried to run clear of the Singapore defence.
It appeared that the Thais would have nothing to show for their first-half dominance but in stoppage time just before the interval, Theerathon swung in a corner from the left and Kirati rose above the Singapore defence to direct a powerful header past Izwan into the net.
Having broken the deadlock, Kirati then picked up the first yellow card of the match when he caught Safuwan Baharuddin with a stray arm right at the start of the second half.
Having absorbed heavy pressure in the opening half, Singapore came more into the game after the break and they nearly got a goal in the 58th minute after a loose ball by Adul Lahso was picked up on the edge of the Thai box by Khairul Amri whose quick pass released Shahril down the right channel.
The skipper cut the ball across the face of goal to Duric but Piyaphon Buntao nipped in to take the ball off his veteran forward’s toe as he shaped to shoot into the unguarded net.
Just before the hour, Theerathon worked a great opening on the left byline and sent in a dangerous cross that Safuwan managed to head away before it could reached a lurking Teerasil.
Jakkapan then lined up a free-kick from 35 metres but his effort flew wide of the left upright.
Safuwan had a steady game in defence but he nearly made a costly mistake in the 66th minute when he chased down a bouncing ball with Kirati but made a weak header that allowed the Thai striker to get to the ball in space on the right of the Singapore box only to fire wildly over the crossbar.
Pipob On-mo and Apipoo Suntornpanavej were brought in for Datsakorn and the injured Kirati and they nearly combined to great effect in the 78th minute when Apipoo’s low cross from the left nearly found Pipob as Izwan got his hands to the ball just ahead of the forward.
Chanathip Songkrasin was also brought on as the Thais attempted to get the crucial goal in the closing stages. And the Thai youngster nearly made the breakthrough in the 85th minute with a great run through the heart of the Singapore defence which took him past four defenders before he fired in a fierce drive that forced a good save out of Izwan.
The Thais piled on the pressure in the closing minutes but could not find a way past the massed Singapore defence who held on for the victory in what was Avramovic’s final match in charge of the Lions after nine years at the helm