Singapore to the fore in final
Singapore took a firm grip on the AFF Suzuki Cup final with a 3-1 win over Thailand in the first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium. Goals from Mustafic Fahruddin, Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan gave the Lions a deserved win which will raise hopes of a record fourth south-east Asian title ahead of Saturday's second leg in Bangkok.
Thailand were briefly on level terms in the second half through Adul Lahso but the goalscorer's departure on a stretcher later meant they finished with ten men, as coach Winfried Schafer had already made all his substitutions.
"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. The long-serving coach promised not to sit back in the second leg, before joking: "If they provide us with a nice chair, we can maybe sit back then."
Thailand's German coach Winfried Schafer 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's (the result) not important," Schafer said, adding: "I'm sure we will win this match."
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 Thai 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 ten minutes to go, Thailand were dealt a blow when goal-scorer Adul was stretchered off injured, reducing them to ten men. And Khaizan made them pay when he bundled in a corner with just seconds left to make Singapore favourites to seal victory in the second leg.