AFF Suzuki Cup 2018

Fate is in our hands: Fandi

Above: Safuwan Baharudin's 12th-minute header opened the floodgates for Singapore, although the hosts were pegged back temporarily just a minute later by a Timor-Leste equaliser. Left: Home fans at the National Stadium had plenty to celebrate, with S
Safuwan Baharudin's 12th-minute header opened the floodgates for Singapore, although the hosts were pegged back temporarily just a minute later by a Timor-Leste equaliser. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Above: Safuwan Baharudin's 12th-minute header opened the floodgates for Singapore, although the hosts were pegged back temporarily just a minute later by a Timor-Leste equaliser. Left: Home fans at the National Stadium had plenty to celebrate, with S
Home fans at the National Stadium had plenty to celebrate, with Singapore reaching the 100th AFF Cup goal milestone - courtesy of Ikhsan Fandi's highlight-reel bicycle kick.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Goal fest inspires fighting talk from Lions coach ahead of Bangkok decider with Thais

GROUP B

Singapore 6

Timor-Leste 1

It was one of those situations where the glass could be half-empty or half-full. But the Lions are not giving up and have vowed to fight to the very end against the odds.

Last night's 6-1 rout of Timor-Leste in the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, a result so emphatic that it left the opposing coach in tears, was tempered by the fact that Group B rivals Thailand and the Philippines drew 1-1.

That means Singapore need to beat the War Elephants in Bangkok on Sunday to ensure qualification for the semi-finals.

"The last game will decide our fate but our spirit is good," said interim national coach Fandi Ahmad after the emphatic win at the National Stadium. "The Thais are favourites and we are the underdogs but we will try to surprise."

His team required just 12 minutes to open the scoring when Zulfahmi Arifin, who started at left-back, floated an inswinging corner to the far post for centre-back Safuwan Baharudin to score with a downward header.

But the joy lasted just one minute as the Lions lost focus and allowed unmarked forward Rufino Gama to tap home from a counter-attack.

The lead was restored in the 19th minute. Ikhsan Fandi's powerful free kick was parried away by goalkeeper Aderito Raul Fernandes but the lurking Safuwan pounced to ram the ball into the net.

In the 30th minute, Ikhsan got his first AFF Cup goal when he tapped home following a melee caused by Zulfahmi's teasing free kick.

And the 19-year-old delivered a show-stopping moment in the 38th minute to send the 18,408 crowd wild when he scored with a spectacular bicycle kick after Safuwan had teed him up with a looping header.

The Lions kept up that pressure after the break and, after a series of misses, finally bagged two late goals.

In the 90th minute, Zulfahmi's corner was headed home by substitute winger Faris Ramli and, two minutes into stoppage time, skipper Hariss Harun ventured left and delivered a precise cross for Safuwan to complete his hat-trick with a towering header.

Timor-Leste's Japanese coach Norio Tsukitate admitted that the result made him cry, and could only say after the match: "Please understand, I don't want to talk about the match.

"Singapore is very good and we all have a good experience here. The players cannot forget this result."

There were nice tidbits for the fans to take away, such as Ikhsan's overhead kick being the 100th goal notched by the Lions in 12 editions of the AFF Cup.

The first?

It was scored by none other than Fandi himself, in a 1-1 draw against Malaysia in 1996.

Yesterday's victory was also Singapore's biggest since a 5-1 friendly thrashing of Brunei in 2015.

But the Philippines-Thailand draw means there will be no celebrations for Singapore just yet.

For even if the Lions hold Thailand to a draw, they will need the Philippines to lose to already-eliminated Indonesia in Jakarta on the same day to squeeze into the last four on goal difference.

However, Fandi does not want to count on the charity of others to stay alive in the AFF Cup. He insisted: "We need to stay positive. It's about pushing ourselves to the limit. We can surprise.

"We have to go there with an open mind. We cannot talk about losing, we need to fight.

"We don't want to depend on Indonesia, we don't have to depend on anyone except ourselves.

"We will go out there and fight for our lives."

Bangkok, the 50,000-capacity Rajamangala Stadium and the War Elephants, winners of the last two AFF Cups, await the Lions.



ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR SEE SPORT C10

Lions thrash Timor-Leste 6-1

Singapore striker Ikhsan Fandi celebrating after scoring his second goal against Timor-Leste last night. The Lions won the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup game 6-1 at the National Stadium to remain third in Group B on six points. Thailand and the Philippines, which drew 1-1 last night, each have seven points, though the Thais top the group on goal difference. Singapore play Thailand in Bangkok on Sunday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2018, with the headline 'Fate is in our hands: Fandi'. Print Edition | Subscribe