SINGAPORE: He slipped, he fell and then he scored.
A composed, clinical finish from substitute Ikhsan Fandi was enough to hand Singapore’s U22 side the win as they beat Thailand 1-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (Jun 9) to win the Merlion Cup.
A 36th minute goal from Ikhsan separated the two sides, who faced off in the final following comfortable wins over Philippines (3-0) and Indonesia (2-1) on Friday.
Speaking at a post-match press conference, Singapore head coach Fandi Ahmad said the tournament win brings a welcome fillip as the young side gears up for the SEA Games later this year.
“I’m very happy for this win. It’s been quite some time that Singapore has won a trophy,” said Fandi. “It's a good stepping stone for the future and (brings) the hope that the youngsters can dream again ... Whatever it is, we must have faith in our football.”
The home side had the first chance of the game as Irfan Fandi’s acrobatic effort off a set-piece came close.
The away side fired back with a salvo of their own almost immediately as a cross-field pass found a Thai attacker onside but the combination of Irfan and Singapore custodian Zharfan Rohaizad thwarted the opportunity.
Thailand grew into the game, and continued to dominate possession but a series of crunching tackles from Singapore midfielder Joshua Pereira stemmed the tide.
Then came the moment of brilliance from Ikhsan who rounded the Thai goalkeeper, and tucked home a right-footed strike despite losing his footing seconds before.
The second half followed more of the same as Singapore’s rearguard held watertight.
The Young Lions reduced the Thais to half-chances, with playmarker Hami Syahin dictating the tempo. Fandi Ahmad’s side ultimately held on for the victory, to the delight of the partisan home crowd.
Fandi hailed his side’s “tactical discipline” throughout the game, singling out the midfield trio of Hami, Pereira and Jacob Mahler for particular praise.
“It was not easy, very physically today but this is how we need to compete,” said Fandi. “I thought the three in the center were superb today, cutting passes and creating chances. Our backline was quite good, quite solid.”
“We did very well trying to stop the Thais from playing and I don’t think they played to their best game because of our tactical discipline.”
His opposite number Alexandre Gama concurred.
“We expected this kind of game, not a beautiful game, difficult to play because Singapore were running a lot and pressing too much,” he added. “We could not play our football ... Singapore did well.”
In the day’s earlier game, Indonesia hammered the Philippines 5-0 to finish the competition in third place.