Second-half strike sees Lions salvage 1-1 draw against Indonesia
An improved second-half comeback from Singapore allowed the Lions to salvage a 1-1 draw with Indonesia on Wednesday (Dec 22) to keep alive their title hopes at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
And fans were back behind the Singaporeans in the semi-final first leg of the Asean Football Federation Championship at the National Stadium.
After a 2-0 loss to Thailand last Saturday, the mood among the fans was sombre and a section of the crowd was heard booing the team at the end of the match.
Just when it seemed the feel-good factor from Singapore's three-straight wins at the start of the tournament had disappeared, it returned as the Lions took on Indonesia.
The Lions' most passionate fan group, the SingaBrigade, who chose to sit out the tournament owing to ticket prices and the ban on drums, were back in the stadium with their drums as the 9,952 fans rallied behind the team, who are contesting the semi-finals for the first time since 2012.
And by the end of the night, particularly after an impressive second-half performance, it seemed that the Lions' confidence was back as well.
After being outclassed by a second-string Thailand team , Lions head coach Tatsuma Yoshida made four changes to his starting 11 while ditching the 4-3-3 formation for a more defensive 3-4-3 .
Nur Adam Abdullah was handed his first start for Singapore in place of Shakir Hamzah who has been ruled out of the tournament with a serious knee injury while midfielder turned central defender Zulfahmi Arifin, midfielder Song Ui-young and right-back Nazrul Nazari came in for Shawal Anuar, Hami Syahin and Zulqarnaen Suzliman.
Indonesia, on the back of their 4-1 thumping of Malaysia last Sunday, made two changes with defender Rizky Ramadhani and forward Dedik Setiawan replacing Ezra Walian and Ramai Rumakiek in the starting line-up.
The Lions looked more assured in defence compared to the loss against Thailand. But in return, Singapore sacrificed an attacking outlet with forward Ikhsan Fandi often isolated up front.
It was the Lions who had the first real chance of the match, when Safuwan Baharudin connected with Shahdan Sulaiman's free-kick and forced Nadeo Argawinata to tip his header over the bar in the 22nd minute.
Buoyed by that chance, Singapore took the game to Indonesia but it was a move that would backfire six minutes later.
After winning possession in their own half, Indonesia broke at pace down the right flank through captain Asnawi Mangkualam who skipped past a desperate attempt from skipper Hariss Harun.
Forward Witan Sulaeman then exchanged passes with his skipper before arriving in the box on the end of a low cross to score the opening goal.
Just before half-time, Yoshida made a tactical change as he moved Hariss into central defence while Zulfahmi moved into midfield. Zulfahmi was then for M. Anumanthan at half-time, with the latter imperious in the middle of the park.
The changes saw the Lions putting in a spirited effort and in the 64th minute, Faris Ramli spurned what had initially been the Lions' best chance all evening. The Lion City Sailors winger latched on to a miscued clearance from the Indonesian defence and dribbled into the box, but with only the goalkeeper to beat, Faris shot wide.
But six minutes later, he redeemed himself by going on a mazy run before prodding the ball through for Ikhsan Fandi, who maintained his composure to slot in for the equaliser.
In the 73rd minute, Safuwan almost gave the Lions the lead but his header from a corner came off the post.
Singapore will face Indonesia in the second leg on Saturday (Dec 25) while five-time champions Thailand meet defending champions Vietnam in the other semi-final on Thursday (Dec 23).