Singapore bounced back from a lacklustre first half performance to edge Thailand 2-1 in a third-fourth placing match in the 41st Merdeka Tournament at the Darulmakmur Stadium tonight.
It was Singapore’s first win in the tournament following three straight defeats during the group stage matches, thanks largely to the efforts of midfielder Muhammad Shafiq Ghani, who returned from the senior team tour of China duty recently to join the squad with a first–half injury-time goal, and Muhammad Faris Ramli knocking the second in the 92nd minute.
Singapore striker Muhammad Shafiq Ghani (No 9) battles for the ball with Thailand defender Reeduan Pi in their third-fourth placing playoff match of the 41st Merdeka Tournament at the Darul Makmur Stadium today.
Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy made another most important change in his line-up today– recalling first-choice goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari from National Service duty in the republic to take over the job from Neezam Abdul Aziz who had stood between the posts in his absence. Syazwan had returned home just after the Malaysia-Singapore opening match last week.
With Syazwan and Shafiq in the squad, that generally sums up how serious the Singaporeans were in search for their first victory in the tournament against a side they had lost 1-0 in the group stage earlier.
“It was something to cheer for us after firing blanks in the last three matches,” said Singapore assistant coach K. Balagumaran. “The return of Syazwan and inclusion of Shafiq from the senior national team in this match saw us performing much better than our previous matches.
Thailand striker Kasidech Wattayawong (right) tussles for the ball with Singapore’s Faris Azienuddin Khaeri (middle) and Muhammad Raihan Rahim in their third-fourth placing playoff match of the 41st Merdeka Tournament in Kuantan today.
The first half turned into a drab affair with the match concentrated in the middle with irregular attacks. It was an agonising wait of 18 minutes into the game before the first corner was recorded, favouring the Thais but without any success.
Three minutes later, it was the Singaporeans who came tantalising close to taking the lead from a 1-2 set piece between Faris and Shafiq from the right side of the box. But Shafiq blew it wide.
As the match picked-up tempo, the Thais scored in the 37th minute through Amree Duerame but the celebrations were short-lived as Malaysian referee Nafeez Abdul Wahab cancelled the goal, ruling it offside.
However, just as the match was headed towards a scoreless first half, midfielder Shafiq turned Singapore’s fortunes around with an injury-time goal, beating goalkeeper Abeefaesan Ya with a meekly grounder, gliding the ball together with a defender across the goal line – for their first ever goal in the tournament.
The second–half was greeted with a light drizzle as both teams struggled to find their footing on a wet and slippery pitch. But the Thais were least perturbed by the wet conditions and scored the equaliser in the 82nd minute through Hasan Maeroh.
But it was the hard-working Singapore forwards attitude that resulted in the winning goal, coming off Faris in injury time, as they returned home with the third-place purse of USD30,000 and pride intact.