Football: Lions thrash Timor-Leste 6-1 in AFF Suzuki Cup but task of making semis still tough

Singapore's Safuwan Baharudin celebrating with teammate Khairul Amri after scoring against Timor-Leste in the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.
Singapore's Safuwan Baharudin celebrating with teammate Khairul Amri after scoring against Timor-Leste in the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Ikhsan Fandi celebrates after scoring his second goal of the match at the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.
Ikhsan Fandi celebrates after scoring his second goal of the match at the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Safuwan Baharudin scoring the first goal for Singapore at the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.
Safuwan Baharudin scoring the first goal for Singapore at the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 21, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Singapore fans celebrating the Lions' 6-1 victory over Timor-Leste during the AFF Suzuki Cup, on Nov 21, 2018.
Singapore fans celebrating the Lions' 6-1 victory over Timor-Leste during the AFF Suzuki Cup, on Nov 21, 2018.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - 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.

Wednesday's (Nov 21) 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 lead 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 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.

Wednesday's win is 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.