Courageous Lions bow out after 120 minutes, amidst drama and controversy
Image via Football Association of Singapore
26 December 2021, Singapore - Singapore pulled off arguably their best performance on a football pitch in nearly a decade, but could not overcome the odds that were firmly and unfairly stacked against them, going down 2-4 to Indonesia in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final, and losing 3-5 on aggregate.
Even then the Lions went within a whisker of reaching the final, earning themselves a penalty kick in the dying embers of normal time, but saw Faris Ramli's firmly planted spot kick parried away to safety by Indonesian custodian Nadeo Winata.
The host nation were reduced to 8 men by the time 120 minutes were up, with two red cards coming in each of the two halves of normal time. Defenders Safuwan Baharudin and Irfan Fandi both received their marching orders from match official Qasim Matar Ali Al-Hatmi, the first under highly controversial circumstances.
In what was a pulsating encounter from the off, Indonesia drew first blood after 11 minutes, when Witan wriggled his way past two defenders before cutting the ball back for Ezra Walian to slide the ball home for the opener.
Singapore grew in confidence and assurance against the high-pressing and more technically gifted Indonesians as the half wore on, carving out good chances with Amy Recha having a shout for a penalty turned down after he had his ankles clipped in the box when he was through on goal.
Tempers flared as the first period drew to a close when Safuwan Baharudin, who had already gone into the referee's book for an innocuous challenge, saw red for retaliating while tussling ahead of a free kick.
The apparent injustice spurred the Lions on, because from the resulting set piece Song Ui-young drilled the ball into the bottom corner to draw Singapore level on terms heading into the break.
Image via Lim Weixiang, Getty Images
Lions Reduced to Nine Men
More drama would unfold in the second period, first as Indonesia almost regained the lead but had a shot rebound off the bar on the hour mark, before the Lions were reduced to 9-men with Irfan Fandi this time the recipient of Qasim Matar Ali Al-Hatmi's red card.
Lions head coach Tatsuma Yoshida had to make quick tactical changes as he brought on Ikhsan Fandi, Faris Ramli and Shawal Anuar as take the game to the Indonesians. The offensive changes appeared to take Indonesia by surprise with Singapore coming closest to break the deadlock next with Shawal Anuar first seeing his dipping shot go narrowly wide before having a header saved at the far post.
Image via Suhaimi Abdullah, AP Photo
Shahdan Free Kick
Faris Ramli also continued to threaten down the left, and it was from one such dribble that he won the free kick that would see Shahdan Sulaiman curl his freekick into the top corner to put 9-men Singapore ahead for the first time.
In spite of the numerical disadvantage, the Lions battled on but could not prevent Indonesia from pulling themselves level 5 minutes from time, when Pratama reacted quickest to poke the ball home from outside the six yard box.
Even then Singapore could have snatched victory in the final minute when Faris Ramli stepped up to take his penalty but it was not to be, as extra-time strikes from Irfan Jaya via a Shawal Anuar touch and Egy Maulana Vikri gave Indoneisa a 5-3 aggregate win and a place in the Final.