AFF Suzuki Cup 2018

Lions no match for Thailand

Defender Irfan Fandi (left) is just about to hook the ball into his own net to give Thailand the lead in the AFF Suzuki Cup at the Rajamangala Stadium. The Lions never recovered from the 12th-minute setback.
Defender Irfan Fandi (left) is just about to hook the ball into his own net to give Thailand the lead in the AFF Suzuki Cup at the Rajamangala Stadium. The Lions never recovered from the 12th-minute setback.ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG
Forward Ikhsan Fandi tangling with Thai captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew.
Forward Ikhsan Fandi tangling with Thai captain Chalermpong Kerdkaew.

Fandi's men bow out of tournament at the group stage for the third consecutive edition

GROUP B

Thailand 3

Singapore 0


Outclassed, out-thought and simply, out. Singapore's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup dreams ended in a nightmare as Thailand turned on the style and dumped the Lions out at the group stage.

With that, the six-month interim tenure of Fandi Ahmad as national coach drew to a close last night.

Fought the Lions did but the hosts simply had too much in their locker. From artful playmaker Sanrawat Dechmitr to exciting young striker Supachai Jaided to deadly finisher Adisak Kraisorn to Tanaboon Kesarat, who read the play astutely - Thailand had quality dripping throughout their team.

More glaringly, although Singapore had shown plenty of grit and hard running, the Lions were no match for the breathless and clever counter-attacks that flowed freely from Milovan Rajevac's side.

Fandi conceded: "Thailand deserved to win, they were the better team. They are tactically very sound and closed our space quickly. They are also very strong on the sides. If you compare, we are miles behind Thailand."

Before 29,760 fans in Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium, it took the hosts 12 minutes to open the scoring as a short corner from left-back Korrakot Wiriya-Udomsiri was sent into his own net by centre-back Irfan Fandi.

Thailand extended their lead in the 23rd minute when right-back Zulqarnaen Suzliman sliced a long punt backwards and Man of the Match Supachai expertly controlled the ball before firing low past Hassan Sunny in goal.

With one minute left, Sanrawat, who was brilliant throughout the evening with his blend of exciting tricks and killer passes, chipped over the Singapore backline for Adisak to stay on top of the tournament's scoring chart with his eighth goal of this AFF Cup.

Thailand topped Group B with 10 points and will now meet Malaysia in the two-legged semi-finals. The Philippines, coached by former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, finished second with eight points after drawing 0-0 in Indonesia yesterday. They will face Group A winners Vietnam.

Thailand coach Rajevac declared himself "quite satisfied" after the game, saying: "Singapore were fighting and trying so hard but we got what we wanted, we played exactly how we wanted. We were aware of how Singapore play and my players responded well and had the match under control."

PROUD DESPITE EXIT

I'm very proud of the team's never-say-die spirit. The players gave their all... We were the underdogs but at least we fought until the end. Unfortunately, our best was not good enough.

FANDI AHMAD, interim national coach whose eight-game tenure resulted in five wins, a draw and two defeats.

SUCCESSOR'S TOUGH TASK

We have improved and we have gained some confidence. Whoever comes in and takes over (as the new national coach) must take this team forward.

FANDI

Indeed, as the Lions relied on graft and continued attacking to the end, the War Elephants calmly found gaps to penetrate with through balls through angles that the red-shirted Singapore players could not see.

But Fandi was happy with the Lions' effort, saying: "I'm very proud of the team's never-say-die spirit. The players gave their all and we were not sitting back. We were the underdogs but at least we fought until the end.

"Unfortunately, our best was not good enough."

The gulf in standards between the two Asean nations was also evident, given that this was not Thailand's strongest team. Rajevac did not call up star goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan (OH Leuven, Belgium) and J-League trio Chanathip Songkrasin (Consadole Sapporo), Theerathon Bunmathan (Vissel Kobe) and Teerasil Dangda (Sanfrecce Hiroshima).

"We have a shortage of attackers," admitted Fandi. "It is not easy and we must make do with what we have. We still have a long way to go but I hope the fans can understand that we are in the process of rebuilding the team."

The game was also poignant as it was probably Fandi's last, barring the Football Association of Singapore deciding to give him the Lions job on a permanent basis. Appointed as the interim coach in May, the 56-year-old's tenure of eight games saw a record of five wins, a draw and two defeats.

And Fandi is urging the next Lion tamer to keep the core of the team.

He said: "We have improved and we have gained some confidence. Whoever comes in and takes over (as the new national coach) must take this team forward."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'Lions no match for Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe