Singapore 3 Thailand 1
Singapore – Singapore took control of the AFF Suzuki Cup final as second-half goals by Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan gave the Lions a 3-1 victory over Thailand in the first leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.
Amri fired home his third goal of the tournament in the 61st minute, two minutes after Thai midfielder Adul Lahso had cancelled out Fahrudin Mustafic’s twice-taken first-half penalty to give Singapore a 2-1 lead.
And Baihakki then turned the ball in from close range in stoppage time to give the Lions a two-goal lead heading into the return match at the Supachalasai Stadium in Bangkok on Saturday.
With Singapore midfielder Fahrudin passed fit after being taken off in the second leg of the semi-final against the Philippines with a groin injury, both teams were able to name unchanged line-ups for the third game in succession.
The home side were quickly out of the blocks with Amri firing wide from 30 metres and Aleksandar Duric heading over the crossbar within the first two minutes.
Thailand had a sighter as well after four minutes when Datsakorn Thonglao’s in-swinging free-kick from the left bounced just in front of the lurking Teerasil Dangda and straight into the arms of a grateful Izwan Mahbud.
The Lions were clearly up for the match and their early pressure was rewarded when they were awarded a penalty after Duric was pulled down in the box by Piyaphon Buntao as he tried to get on the end of Shahril Ishak’s dangerous ball from the right.
Fahrudin sent goalkeeper Kawin Thammasatchanan the wrong way from the spot but his celebrations were interrupted by Japanese referee Masaaki Toma who ordered the kick to be retaken because of encroachment by the Singapore players.
However, the midfielder kept his cool to put the ball into the other corner to give the hosts a 1-0 lead and become only the second player after Amri to score in two AFF Suzuki Cup finals.
There was plenty of robust play by the home side early on as they sought to stifle the attack of the Thais, which had scored 12 goals in their previous five games. Baihakki Khaizan got a stern warning for a foul on Datsakorn and Fahrudin was then booked in the 20th minute for chopping down the Thai midfielder in the centre circle.
Amri’s chip from the left nearly caught out Kawin who just managed to tip the ball over the crossbar before the Thais finally began to turn up the heat in the 22nd minute with a dangerous cross into the box by Anucha Kitpongsri that the Lions defence managed to scramble clear.
The visitors suffered a big blow in the 25th minute when skipper and centre back Panupong Wongsa had to be stretchered off with what looked like an ankle problem and was replaced by Nattaporn Phanrit, who also took over the captain’s armband.
Thailand’s most dangerous opportunity of the first half arrived just after the half-hour when Phichitpoing Choeichiu slipped a neat through ball to Anucha whose shot from a tight angle on the left beat Izwan but went wide of the the far post.
On 36 minutes, Duric and Amri played a neat one-two on the left of the Thai box before Duric attempted to lob the ball on target only to put it straight into the arms of Kawin.
Teerasil was kept quiet for much of the first half but just before the break, he found himself in space on the left edge of the Singapore box but his curling effort was easily saved by Izwan.
The Thais forced three quick corners at the start of the second half as they sought to get back into the game and a cross from the right by Piyaphon in the 49th minute picked out Teerasil who headed over.
The visitors were very much in the ascendancy and their endeavour was rewarded in the 59th minute after Teerasil made a great run down the right channel and eluded a challenge by Baihakki before cutting the ball back to an unmarked Adul who squeezed the ball in off the upright for his first international goal for Thailand.
However, parity would last just two minutes as the Lions quickly regained the lead after a fine finish by Amri.
A long ball to the left flank found Duric and he quickly relayed the ball to the middle where Amri made a great turn in the box to get past Nattaporn before firing a fierce low drive that beat Kawin at his near post.
Thailand went close to levelling the score again shortly afterwards in the 63rd minute when a rasping free-kick by Jakkapan Pornsai from 30 metres came back off the crossbar and was scrambled clear by Izwan as the Thais looked to pounce on the rebound.
The Thais continued to exert much of the pressure as the half progressed but it was Singapore who looked the more likely to get a third on the counter.
Shahril Ishak curled an effort wide from the left side of the box in the 69th minute and seven minutes later Duric got on the end of a cross by Shaiful Esah but could only send his header over the crossbar.
Kawin made a fine save to keep out Shaiful Esah’s blistering free-kick from 30 metres in the 80th minute.
At the other end, a free-kick by Arthit Sunthornphit in the 86th minute found an unattended Nattaporn whose diving header went just wide.
The Lions turned up the heat in search of a third goal in the closing minutes and Kawin had to be alert again to keep out another excellent free-kick by Shaiful in stoppage time.
But from the resulting corner, the ball hit Shahril Ishak in the back and fell to Baihakki who fired the ball into the roof of the net from point-blank range to give the Lions a healthy lead to take to Bangkok for the return match.