Football: Insiders reveal how the Lions won each of their 4 AFF Championships

A file photo of the Singapore football team winning the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2012. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - The Lions may be underdogs at most Asean football championships, but they have a remarkable record when they do get past the group stage.

From five semi-final appearances, they made four finals, and won every one.

The key members of each of Singapore's victorious campaigns share their insights on how each title was won.

1998: Youth to the fore

R. Sasikumar was Singapore's match winner in the 1998 Tiger Cup final. PHOTO: ST FILE

R. Sasikumar, Singapore's match winner in the 1998 Tiger Cup final, as the Asean Football Federation Championship was known then:

"Due to injury and personal reasons, many stars like Fandi Ahmad, David Lee, Malek Awab, Lim Tong Hai, Steven Tan and V. Selvaraj were retired or not in the 1998 squad.

"There was a youthful energy about the team because there were players from the Olympic (Under-23) squad who wanted to prove their worth and thinking this was our turn. There was Rezal Hassan in goal, S. Subramani, Aide Iskandar and myself in a three-man defence, and we had a solid backline who trusted one another.

"Rafi Ali was redeployed as a striker, and although Indra Sahdan was dropped, we had 19-year-old Ahmad Latiff. Both of them scored in our first game as we beat Malaysia 2-0, which settled any nerves and gave us the belief (that we could do well).

"We were a very efficient unit that didn't concede much. We knew that if we could score goals then we wouldn't be beaten.

"Another advantage we had then that was overlooked was we had a height advantage on most teams and we made use of that to batter our opponents and that was also how I scored my Cup-winning goal against Vietnam."

2004: Bring back the Roar

Former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic. PHOTO: ST FILE

Former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic, who masterminded the 2004, 2007 and 2012 triumphs:

"Because of the poor results up to that point, when I took over in July 2003, few players were excited to receive a call-up. There was low tactical discipline and fitness, so I thought we had to call up new players to form a new team. It was a tricky decision, because if I didn't succeed, I would lose my job.

"But I was lucky to have the support of the football association, and with the assistance of Fandi Ahmad, Lee Bee Seng and Sasha Bozenko, we made the big turn to call up many Young Lions players, who had finished third in the league, for the national team.

"We found the right balance of players, fitness, team spirit and a winning mentality. We went to Vietnam without anyone giving us a chance but I was really sure we could reach the final.

"Losing 1-0 to Japan in the World Cup qualifiers just before the tournament showed we could compete against Asia's best, and when I was in charge, I always instructed the boys to try to score because that is the way we can get a result. We equalised and got a draw against Vietnam in the group stage, and that helped me gain the players' buy-in and confidence.

"I was really happy with the 2004 win because the National Stadium was packed again as we brought national pride back to Singapore football."

2007: From strength to strength

Former Singapore striker Noh Alam Shah was the Suzuki Cup's top scorer in 2007. PHOTO: ST FILE

Former Singapore striker Noh Alam Shah, the Suzuki Cup's top scorer (17 goals) who also won the Golden Boot (10 goals) in 2007:

"This was maybe the only time we went in as favourites, but we earned it.

"For example in 2006, we beat Iraq, who went on to become Asian Cup champions.

"The 2004 Asean triumph gave us the confidence and made us feel really strong and dominant. Furthermore, the Young Lions players that came in had matured.

"The addition of foreign talents like Precious, Emuejeraye, Fahrudin Mustafic and Shi Jiayi gave us an extra edge in terms of a higher level of physicality and technical ability.

"The team composition was well-balanced, and we knew what Coach Raddy wanted from us and how to win games."

2012: Do it for Raddy

Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak (left) was the Most Valuable Player in the 2012 edition. PHOTO: ST FILE

Former Singapore skipper Shahril Ishak, Most Valuable Player in the 2012 edition:

"When we had the pre-tournament preparations in Japan, Raddy told us that this would be his last tournament with us.

"We were surprised and sad, but at the same time, we wanted to give him a good send-off because he had done so much for Singapore football.

"That was added motivation to what was already a strong team that had mostly played together as the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League.

"He added in-form S-League players like Daniel Bennett, Fahrudin Mustafic and Aleksandar Duric, who complemented the team and made us stronger."

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