SINGAPORE: There were pyrotechnics prior to Singapore’s AFF Suzuki Cup opener with Myanmar and striker Ikhsan Fandi ensured the fireworks continued on the pitch on Sunday (Dec 5) as his clinical brace gave the Lions a 3-0 win at the National Stadium.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of 7,588, first half goals from Ikhsan and defender Safuwan Baharudin fired the Lions to top spot in Group A, ahead of second placed Thailand. The Thais beat minnows Timor Leste 2-0 in the first game of the tournament.
After a tournament opening ceremony that boasted a drone show, an appearance from FIFA President Gianni Infantino, and lots of fireworks, it was Myanmar who began the brighter of the two sides, causing some problems down the right flank.
The Lions' tentative start was down to a bit of nerves, said Singapore head coach Tatsuma Yoshida after the game, but the team would slowly impose themselves.
For the Lions, it was the tireless Song Ui-young that looked to be the main threat, as the newly naturalised Singaporean played Faris Ramli through on goal in the 14th minute, only for a combination of the turf and Myanmar goalkeeper Myo Min Latt to deny the nippy forward.
"I felt that I wasn't settled down in the game for the first 20 minutes to be honest, had to find my rhythm," said man of the match Ikhsan.
"But you take time to adapt to games like this, in a tournament like this, and once we got it rolling, we see the team start to move well together, and we found our rhythm and then we found our goals. So I think it's just normal in a competition like this."
Prior to the game, the Football Association of Singapore had announced that all seats allocated for Singapore fans had been sold out, and these supporters were soon roaring with delight when Safuwan’s header evaded the Myanmar goalkeeper in the 34th minute.
Then it was the Ikhsan show, as the FK Jerv striker scored a clinical double - the first an angled drive and the next a solid header from a Shahdan Sulaiman set piece to give Singapore the lead going into the half.
Myanmar tried to claw their way back in the second 45, but struggled to fashion a clear-cut chance early on. The closest they came was the 55th minute when Hassan was forced to a save down his right.
But Singapore were still in control of the game and also created a couple of chances of their own, with Song as well as Safuwan going close.
Then came Myanmar’s best chance of the game as substitute Win Naing Tun cut in past his man, only to hammer a shot straight at Hassan Sunny.
With Singapore loose with possession on a few occasions, Win would come close again several minutes later, this time flicking a header just wide.
"The first match is always important for the team, but we got three points and that's the most important thing," said Yoshida, who lauded his team's fighting spirit.
"I'm proud of them, of their performance, but we can be better, we have to improve for the next."
The Lions will be aiming to make the knockout stages of the Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2012, when they went on to lift the trophy under coach Raddy Avramovic.
In the last edition of the tournament in 2018, the Lions were knocked out in the group stages. Despite wins over Indonesia and Timor-Leste, Singapore fell to a 1-0 defeat to the Philippines and were beaten 3-0 by Thailand.
The Lions finished third in the group with six points, with the top two nations progressing.
Singapore will next face the Philippines on Wednesday. The Azkals have yet to play a game at the tournament.
The AFF Suzuki Cup was set to be held last year, but was later pushed back to April this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was later rescheduled for a second time.
It will run from Sunday to Jan 1 next year.
Unlike the 2018 tournament which was held on a home-and-away basis, this year's edition is only held in one country - Singapore - due to the pandemic.
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