AFF Suzuki Cup 2016

Football: 2 slips and Lions are out of Suzuki Cup

Stefano Lilipaly celebrating his goal which turned out to be the winner against Singapore in their Suzuki Cup match last night. The disappointment on the faces of Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, defender Shakir Hamzah and midfielder Hariss Harun is te
Stefano Lilipaly celebrating his goal which turned out to be the winner against Singapore in their Suzuki Cup match last night. The disappointment on the faces of Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, defender Shakir Hamzah and midfielder Hariss Harun is telling.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Lions finally score with Amri scissor kick but pay the price through slack marking late on

GROUP A

Singapore 1
Indonesia 2

As if right on cue, the skies above Manila's Rizal Memorial Stadium opened up at 9.48pm last night.

By then, Singapore were sent reeling after their worst showing in 11 editions of the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship after losing 1-2 to Indonesia, who went through to the semi-finals.

No wins, two defeats, three goals conceded and just one scored, and a solitary point to finish bottom of Group A of the AFF Suzuki Cup. The previous low was in 2014, when the Lions won once and earned three points in their group-stage exit.

Even an already-qualified Thailand team made up of reserves did V. Sundramoorthy's men a favour by beating co-hosts Philippines 1-0.

Had the Lions held on to their 1-0 first-half lead against the Garudas, they would be the ones celebrating qualification into the semi-finals.

Yet, the dour and defensive football in their first two games - a 0-0 draw against the Philippines and a 0-1 loss to Thailand - won them few friends.

At the post-match conference, a dejected Sundram said: "We took the lead and we were confident, but from two crosses, the marking was lacking and Indonesia scored two volleys.

"We had enough chances to score but we didn't. We need to move on. I believe the boys had done well, they were fighting until the end."

But his mood turned foul when The Straits Times asked about his future. In May, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) appointed him as national caretaker coach with a target of reaching the AFF Cup semi-finals.

Usually friendly and jovial, the 51-year-old snapped: "After six months, people judge your future?"

Early on, the Lions finally showed attacking intent, and a long Madhu Mohana throw in the 27th minute was flicked on by Safuwan Baharudin and Khairul Amri bulged the net with an acrobatic volley.

Yet Indonesia, who had practised their crossing and finishing during Thursday's training, scored twice from this ploy as Andik Vermansyah (62nd minute) and Stefano Lilipaly (84th) blasted ferocious volleys when left unmarked.

Said a delighted Indonesia coach Alfred Riedl: "We deserved to win, we were the better side.

"For 11/2 years, we had no international football (because of Fifa's ban) and I can only pick two players from each club (with the Indonesian Super League is ongoing).

" I am very lucky that I have talented players who are the future of Indonesian football."

As for the shattered Lions, few could put into words how bitter the defeat was. Said defender Madhu: "We are all disappointed. We did well in the first two games but we conceded against Indonesia. It could have been so different."

The loss capped a week of frustration in Manila, as the Football Association of Singapore will have some serious soul-searching to do after this latest debacle.

The Lions had made early exits at the 2014 and this year's AFF Cup; the Young Lions suffered the same fate at last year's SEA Games; and the various age-group teams have not been producing sparkling results.

The team will have plenty to think about as they returned to their base at Novotel Araneta.

It is ironical that, just a Madhu long throw away from the hotel lies the Araneta Coliseum where, 41 years ago, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought out one of the greatest boxing matches of all time.

To be that close to history would have been inspirational.

But it was no Thrilla in Manila for the Lions, only tears, regret and an early flight home.

MORE AFF CUP REPORTS: Sarawut hands Azkals late heartbreak

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2016, with the headline '2 slips and they're out'. Print Edition | Subscribe