Thailand have a mountain to climb in their bid to end a 10-year Asean football title drought after losing 3-1 in Singapore in the first leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final Wednesday night.
As the game seemed to be destined for a 2-1 win for the Lions – an away result which with Thailand should have been satisfied – Baihakki Khaizan gave the Thais a big blow with his injury-time strike at Jalan Besar stadium.
Singapore now take a firm grip on the trophy as Thailand must score at least two goals in the second leg at Supachalasai stadium on Saturday to stand any chance of claiming the biggest prize in Southeast Asian football they last won in 2002.
Ironically, Singapore last won the biennial event in 2007 with a home victory against Thailand in the first leg.
The Lions secured a 2-1 home win and then held Thailand to a 1-1 draw in Bangkok in the 2007 showdown. Both are chasing a record fourth title.
“We’ve got a good result, it’s up to us now to go to Thailand and try again to score, as if we don’t score it will be very, very difficult,” said Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic.
Asked if Singapore would sit back to protect the lead in Bangkok, he said: “If they provide us with a nice chair, we can maybe sit back.”
Thailand coach Winfried Schaefer bullishly insisted he was “sure” his team would win, despite seeing their usual free-flowing attacks stifled by Singapore.
“I have trust in my team, I know my team. For me it [last night’s result] is not important,” Schaefer said. “I’m sure we will win this final.”
At Jalan Besar stadium, goals from Mustafic Fahruddin, Khairul Amri and Khaizan gave the Lions a deserved win.
Thailand were briefly on level terms in the second half through Adul Lasoh but his departure on a stretcher later meant they finished with 10 men, as Schaefer had already made all his substitutions.
In a carnival atmosphere, Singapore were quickly into their stride with some slick interchanges on the artificial surface, and Bosnian-born striker Aleksandar Duric, 42, headed over as early as the third minute.
Duric, who will retire after the tournament, proved himself a handful again just minutes later when he was hauled down in the box by Piyaphon Buntao, with Japanese referee Masaaki Toma pointing straight to the spot.
Fahruddin survived some nervy moments after his first, successful spot-kick was ruled out for encroachment, and he planted the second effort high and right to spark jubilation in the packed 7,500-capacity stadium.
Singapore were dominant and Amri, the match-winning hero when the two sides met in the 2007 final, floated a showboating effort from distance which tested Thailand goalkeeper Kawin Thamasatchanan.
Teerasil Dangda’s shot from a tight angle was as close as Thailand came in the first half but the classy forward brought his team roaring back into it on 59 minutes when his cut-back was swept in off the post by Adul.
However, parity lasted just two minutes as Duric found Amri in the box from the left and the striker span away from his marker, turned and buried his shot right-footed at the near post.
Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud was at full stretch when he palmed away a stinging free-kick by Thailand’s Jakkapan Ponsai, and Duric should have done better with a header from a set-piece as the chances flowed.
With 10 minutes to go, Thailand were dealt a blow when goal-scorer Adul was stretchered off injured, reducing them to 10 men.
Khaizan made them pay when he bundled in a corner with just seconds left to make Singapore favourites to lift the trophy.