SINGAPORE: The Singapore national team clinched a shock victory on Friday (Nov 9) after beating Indonesia 1-0 in its opening match of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.
In front of 30,000 supporters at the Singapore Sports Hub, the Lions clinched their first competitive victory since 2015 with a first-half strike from skipper Hariss Harun.
The home side outplayed their opponents for large parts of the game, upsetting Indonesia's rhythm with intense pressing in midfield.
Lions winger Yasir Hanapi almost gave Singapore the lead in the ninth minute when he was through one on one with Indonesia's goalkeeper Andritany after an incisive pass from Shakir Hamzah. But Yasir shot straight at Andritany, leaving the home fans groaning from the stands.
About five minutes later, the Lions survived a defensive scare when Irfan Fandi misjudged a cross that thumped the crossbar.
The Lions then continued to threaten the Indonesian goal with quick counter-attacks, but they were wasteful in their set pieces, with Izzdin Shafiq and Gabriel Quak both giving corners straight to the opposition.
But on 37 minutes, Singapore pressure paid dividends. Quak dribbled superbly down the right flank and his subsequent cross was headed clear to Hariss. With time and space in the penalty area, the Lions skipper took a touch before slamming the ball into the back of the net.
Two minutes later, Singapore almost doubled their lead. Faris Ramli was left unmarked in the box from a counter attack, but he shot straight at Andritany.
Singapore continued to dominate after half-time. In the 50th minute, Lions goalkeeper Hassan Sunny spotted a gap in the defence and thumped the ball upfield to Faris. Bearing down on the goal, Faris chose to chip the ball over Andritany.
There was a sharp intake of breath from the home crowd as the ball rose and dipped onto the crossbar.
Indonesia only managed their first shot on target in the 74th minute when left back Putu Gede Juni Antara shot straight at Hassan.
And Putu Juni capped a poor night for the away team when he was sent off in injury time after he barged into youngster Adam Swandi near the touchline. The reckless challenge earned him a second yellow card, and the crowed jeered loudly at the 23-year-old as he walked off the pitch into the dressing room.
The win gives the Lions a boost in their chances to qualify from the group stage for the first time since 2012.
Speaking to reporters after the victory, Singapore head coach Fandi Ahmad said: "We got the three points, which was crucial. It's a huge relief for all fans of Singapore football.
"In possession they (Indonesia) were a very good team. We knew what we had to do and we did it."
The local footballing legend also reserved special praise for his captain Hariss.
"He was a solid captain today - scored the goal, fought for every ball, was a workhorse in midfield," he said.
Indonesian head coach Bima Sakti, who has 58 caps for his country, lauded the Lions' performance.
"They were organised, and their transitions from defence to attack were quick. That's what stood out for me," said Bima.
The Lions will face Sven Goran Eriksson's Philippines next Tuesday in Bacolod. Singapore will then play Timor-Leste at home on Nov 21 and face defending champions Thailand away on Nov 25 in their remaining Group B fixtures.