Heartbreak for Singapore as Lions eliminated from AFF Suzuki Cup after extra-time loss to Indonesia
SINGAPORE: On the pitch at the National Stadium on Saturday (Dec 25), they fought like lions.
Backs against the wall, in the face of several questionable refereeing decisions, Singapore stared into the abyss of a loss.
Yet they battled – clearing shots off the line, defending stoutly, throwing bodies around.
First reduced to 10, then nine and eventually eight.
Then came heartbreak in extra time, courtesy of two Indonesian goals, which meant that Tatsuma Yoshida’s side were eliminated from the AFF Suzuki Cup on Saturday (Dec 25) after a 4-2 loss to Indonesia in the second leg of the semi-final.
Extra-time strikes from Irfan Jaya via a Shawal Anuar touch and Egy Maulana Vikri gave the away side a 5-3 aggregate victory and ensured that the search for the Lions’ first Suzuki Cup title since 2012 would go on.
Showing "Singapore spirit" was how Yoshida described his team's performance after the game.
"They showed the best performance since I came to Singapore ... I feel happy working with my boys and I am proud of all of them," he said.
"I was moved by their fighting spirit, their Singapore spirit and they didn't give up."
The Lions’ first leg match on Wednesday had ended 1-1 as an Ikhsan Fandi equaliser pegged back the Indonesians.
However, with Yoshida making several changes, Ikhsan started the game on the bench, with a different-looking Singapore side for the second leg.
In his place was Geylang International striker Amy Recha, making his first Singapore start. Faris Ramli was also dropped to the bench, with Hafiz Nor starting for the Lions.
It was the Indonesians who took the lead in the 11th minute, as a Hassan Sunny pass was intercepted by Witan. He brushed off two defenders and found Ezra Walian for the opener.
Four minutes later, they almost doubled their lead but Pratama Arhan could only curl his effort over.
Singapore struggled to find their foot in the game, with a series of misplaced passes handing the momentum to the ever-pressing Indonesia team on a number of occasions.
The Lions’ best chance came courtesy of a lung-busting run from Song Ui-young, who found Hafiz Nor, but his shot was parried wide.
Amy Recha then looked to have been brought down in the box when he was about to latch onto the rebound but vehement appeals from Singapore were waved away.
Then came a flashpoint. Defender Safuwan Baharudin, who was shown a soft yellow card earlier by referee Qasim Matar Ali Al Hatmi, was booked again and sent off after a tussle in the box before a corner kick was taken.
But the Lions held their nerve and drew level, with Song firing home in the first half added time to the delight of Singapore fans.
Indonesia piled on the pressure in the second half and had a shot rebound off the bar in the 59th minute.
Yoshida threw caution to the wind with a triple substitution, bringing on Ikhsan, Faris and Shawal Anuar.
And it was Shawal who almost made an instant impact a minute after coming on, but his dipping shot drifted just wide.
Singapore defender Irfan Fandi received his marching orders in the 67th minute, after he hauled down Irfan Jaya as he ran towards goal. The referee deemed him to have denied the forward a clear goalscoring opportunity.
But shortly after, Singapore midfielder Shahdan thought he had turned game winner as he curled a gorgeous free kick past the Indonesian keeper to put nine-man Singapore ahead.
But Indonesia were not done yet, and they grabbed an equaliser with four minutes to spare, courtesy of Pratama.
With the game on the line, Faris had the chance to seal a famous win, but his penalty was pushed away by Indonesian keeper Nadeo Winata.
Then came the clincher for the Indonesians with just a minute played in extra time. As Irfan Jaya tried to force the ball across the line, it inadvertently rebounded off Shawal into goal.
Indonesia almost extended their lead on several occasions, if not for the excellent work of Singapore keeper Hassan Sunny, who was one of the many players who were immense for the Lions.
Substitute Egy then doubled the Indonesians’ lead just before the end of the first half of extra time to seal the victory.
Hassan received his marching orders with time ticking down as the Lions went down to eight men.
Speaking after the match, Yoshida said: "The referee is the referee. (If) they say (it's a) foul, it's a foul. (If) they say (it's a) red card, (it's a) red card.
"We have to accept it, it's football."
And it is Yoshida's hope that the fans will believe in the team, and the players in themselves.
"I always tell the boys, my staff. You must believe (in) yourself. You can do it ... Singapore fans I hope, I want them to support the boys and Singapore football."
Despite the loss, the crowd’s appreciation for the crestfallen team at the full-time whistle said it all.
Singapore may have fallen to a defeat, but on a pulsating Christmas night at the National Stadium, they roared.
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