Fandi's fledglings lift Merlion Cup, thanks to Ikhsan's strike
|(Ikhsan Fandi 36)|
The 3,477-strong crowd at the Jalan Besar Stadium let out an emphatic roar at the final whistle.
The players in red jumped to the skies in jubilation and hugged one another in a tight embrace and even the players from the bench sprinted onto the field to join in the celebration.
This was a friendly competition but try telling that to the Singapore Under-22s, who clinched the Merlion Cup after a spirited 1-0 win over the Thais in the final last night.
The euphoria was perhaps not surprising since it was the first time a Singaporean football 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.
This time, Fandi Ahmad’s side would have the last laugh, boding well for the Nov 30-Dec 11 SEA Games in the Philippines.
The win was a result of a gutsy and unblemished defensive performance from Singapore, with the winning goal coming from a 36th-minute strike by Ikhsan Fandi.
The 20-year-old, who plies his trade for 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.
The forward latched onto 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 the Thai goalkeeper who had charged out of the box.
It was a deserved lead for the hosts who were the superior side in the first half.
While still a friendly competition in nature, Singapore were up for the tie from kick-off, with Jacob Mahler and Joshua Pereira working tenaciously in midfield and shutting off space in the middle of the park. Even diminutive central midfielder Hami Syahin, who was named Man-of-the-Match, was getting stuck in.
At the back, Irfan and Lionel Tan put in a faultless display, never allowing the Thais to get in behind the defence line.
At half-time, Thailand coach Alexandre Game 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.
In yesterday’s earlier match , Indonesia U-22 thumped the Philippines U-22 5-0 to secure third place.