'It was the worst feeling ever': Lions' Faris on his penalty miss
It was an image seen by many on their televisions and screens: Lions forward Faris Ramli, head in his hands after missing a crucial penalty in the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final on Saturday (Dec 25), as rival captain Asnawi Mangkualam of Indonesia reacted gleefully in his face.
A successful kick in injury time would have all but sent Singapore into the final of the tournament. Instead, Faris' flub with the score at 2-2 was followed by two goals in extra time by Indonesia, in a game muddled by refereeing controversy and inconsistencies, with three Lions players sent off. The hosts eventually lost the two-legged tie 5-3 on aggregate.
In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, Faris recounted how it felt as he watched Indonesia goalkeeper Nadeo Argawinata push his shot around the post. "It was the worst feeling ever," said Faris. "The only thought running through my mind was, 'How could I miss that?'
"I didn't even realise the Indonesian captain was talking to me... I heard his voice but could not make out what he said. I am thankful to Shahdan (Sulaiman) and some of our players who stood by me."
Lions midfielder Shahdan was first on the scene to shepherd Asnawi away from a distraught Faris.
The 29-year-old Faris, who has scored 10 goals in 66 appearances for the national team, including against the Philippines earlier in the group stage of the tournament, said he volunteered to take the kick as designated first-choice taker Safuwan Baharudin was not on the pitch, having been red-carded in the first half.
"I knew the team needed someone... At the moment, it was just an instinct of mine to get the ball and go for it," said Faris, citing a good penalty record and confidence from recent training sessions.
He did not count on Nadeo making a fine stop. "It would be a lie if I said I didn't think about that moment. It keeps repeating in my head," said Faris.
The wiry winger, who plays for Singapore Premier League champions Lion City Sailors, is determined to bounce back from this setback.
He said he is motivated by the support he has received from his teammates, family and friends. Spending time with his wife Nur Syahzanna and their three-year-old son Luth Na'el has also helped, after they had been apart for a month as players were kept in a tournament bubble.
Although his social media was flooded by Indonesians who mocked him for his miss - his most recent post on Instagram has almost 15,000 comments, mostly from rival fans - he insisted he was "not affected at all". He prefers to focus on positive messages from Singapore fans, and thanked everyone who sent their support.
His goal now is to rest, recharge and get ready for 2022, when the Sailors will also make their debut in the Asian Champions League, Asia's top continental club tournament.
He has resolved to make last week's miss no more than a footnote in his football story. "I believe in what is meant to be... Anyone else could have taken it and the outcome might have been the same."
Watch the interview and other reports on ST's The Big Story.