Fandi Ahmad praises his fledglings after winning Merlion Cup
Singapore U-22 lift Merlion Cup after pipping Thais
Singapore Under-22 coach Fandi Ahmad praised his fledglings for their fire and character after they defeated Thailand U-22 to lift the Merlion Cup at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
|(Ikhsan Fandi 36)|
Fandi was beaming after the 1-0 victory, which was secured by his second son Ikhsan Fandi's 36th-minute strike.
Said Fandi: "We are very happy with this win. It's been some time since we won a cup.
"It is important that we learn from this victory. This is how we need to compete and we did well to stop the Thais from playing.
"We played with lots of character and had tactical discipline. The desire and fire were there. The players wanted to win badly for Singapore."
Their effort was well-appreciated by the 3,477-strong crowd, who let out an emphatic roar at the final whistle.
The players in red jumped in jubilation and hugged one another in a tight embrace as their teammates from the bench sprinted onto the field to join the celebrations.
The euphoria was perhaps not surprising. It was the first time a Singapore side had beaten their Thai counterparts, since the 3-1 victory in the first leg of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup final between the countries' senior teams at the same venue.
Since then, the Thais have reigned supreme at all levels, most notably at last year's Suzuki Cup when the Lions were thumped 3-0 by the War Elephants in Bangkok.
Last night's win was the result of a gutsy and unblemished defensive performance from Singapore, with the winner coming from substitute Ikhsan.
The 20-year-old, who plies his trade with second-tier Norwegian side Raufoss IL, had been on the pitch for only four minutes after coming on for Daniel Goh in the 32nd minute, when he capitalised on a defensive mix-up to give Singapore a first-half lead.
He latched on to a lofted ball outside the penalty box and, despite an initial slip while controlling the ball, he recovered to slot the ball into an unguarded net after rounding Thai goalkeeper Korraphat Nareechan, who had charged out of the box.
It was a deserved lead for the hosts, who were the superior side in the first half.
Despite this being a friendly competition, Singapore were up for the tie from kick-off, with captain Irfan Fandi and Lionel Tan putting in a faultless display at the back, never allowing the Thais behind the defensive line.
In midfield, Jacob Mahler and Joshua Pereira worked tenaciously to shut off space. Even diminutive central midfielder Hami Syahin, who was named Man-of-the-Match, was getting stuck in.
At half-time, Thailand coach Alexandre Gama introduced two changes, bringing on attackers Ekanit Panya and Wisarut Imura in a bid to wrestle the game back from Singapore.
Even then, it was largely a quiet evening for goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad.
Gama was gracious after the defeat, praising his opponents for having an "amazing" attitude.
He said: "It was a difficult game because Singapore were always pressing. We couldn't play our football because Singapore did well. Their players had high levels of physical condition and ran for 90 minutes. Their attitude was amazing."
Hami said: "This victory means a lot to the players, winning it in front of our home fans.
"This was a stepping stone for the SEA Games... We believed in one another that we could beat the Thais and win the cup."
Their confidence may have been boosted ahead of the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines, but Fandi was not getting carried away.
He said: "Our aim is to do well in the group stage. We will be the underdogs but, if we prepare well, we can surprise a few opponents."
In yesterday's earlier match, Indonesia U-22 thumped the Philippines U-22 5-0 to secure third place.
SINGAPORE: Zharfan Rohaizad, Syahrul Sazali, Irfan Fandi, Lionel Tan, Irfan Najeeb, Daniel Goh (Ikhsan Fandi 32, Ryhan Stewart 90), Hami Syahin, Jacob Mahler, Joshua Pereira (Nur Luqman 70), Haiqal Pashia, Amiruldin Asraf (Zikos Chua 83)
THAILAND: Korraphat Nareechan, Apisit Sorada, Saringkan Promsupa, Marco Ballini, Shinnaphat Leeaoh, Meechok Marhasaranukun (Jaroensak Wonggorn 65), Siwakorn Sangwong (Wisarut Imura 45), Ratthanakorn Maikami (Jaturapat Sattham 76), Chatmongkol Tongkiri, Sittichok Paso (Korawich Tasa 75), Natthawut Munsuwan (Ekanit Panya 45)