A disastrous 2002 campaign was forgotten under new management as a new-look Lions stormed to their second title
|By Khalis Rifhan
The odds were against the Lions as they headed into Tiger Cup 2004, co-hosted by Vietnam and Malaysia. After a disastrous campaign two years earlier, Serbian coach Raddy Avramovich was appointed as the new Singapore coach, replacing Dane Jan Poulsen.
The squad was a mix of experienced players such as captain Aide Iskandar, Hasrin Jailani, S.Subramani and younger ones such as Ismail Yunos, Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril Ishak.
Also in the team were naturalized Singaporeans, Itimi Dickson and Agu Casmir. Itimi was a crowd favourite with his trickery down the flanks and somersault celebrations.
Agu on the other hand formed a superb strike partnership with Indra Shahdan upfront.
In Group A together with favourites Vietnam and Indonesia, Singapore defied the odds to advance to the semifinal stage against Myanmar.
Singapore drew their two opening matches against Vietnam and Indonesia before thumping Laos 6-2.
Hasrin scored the opener while Indra Shahdan and Agu Casmir both grabbed a brace and Laos’ defender Sengphet Thongphachan put the ball into his own net.
Singapore was fortunate that Indonesia recorded victory against Vietnam, enabling the Lions to finish the group stage a point ahead of the hosts.
In the semi-final, Singapore met with surprise Group B winners Myanmar. The Lions had the upper-hand going into the second leg after they held on to win the first leg by four goals to three in Yangon.
The return leg at the Kallang Stadium was one that caught the attention of then AFC General Secretary Peter Velappan who was unhappy with the lack of sportsmanship and fair play, especially from the Myanmar players.
Yan Paing had been sent off after picking up a second yellow card minutes before Singapore's first goal for a needless swipe at Daniel Bennett's ankles, and Myanmar, were eventually left with eight men for the mandatory half-hour of extra-time as two more were sent off later.
Also shown the red card by Japanese referee Toru Kamikawa were Myanmar's Moe Kyaw Tu for kicking a clod of mud at the official and reserve keeper Tun Tun Lin for hurling a water bottle at Singapore's S.Subramani from the bench.
Singapore eventually qualified for the final after winning 8-5 on aggregate setting up a daunting tie against the Garudas of Indonesia.
Although Indonesia were favourites to lift the prestigious regional championship for the first time, the Lions once again refused to play by the script as they won the first leg 3-1 at Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta.
Bennett, Khairul Amri and Agu scored for the visitors while left back Mahyadi Panggabean netted the consolation for the hosts in the dying seconds of the game.
The return leg, in front of 55,000 home support, Lions gave the fans a sweet victory to savour for the night.
Singapore clinched title as they ran out 2-1 winners on the night, clinching the tie 5-2 on aggregate.
Two first-half strikes from Indra and Agu killed the game off as a contest, with Indonesia managing only a consolation goal scored by Eli Aiboy in the 76th minute.
Speaking to Goal.com Singapore, former Lions captain Aide Iskandar said: “My greatest moment was to captain the Singapore national team and win the Suzuki Cup."
“I was very fortunate because I was in a generation where I was able to play with the likes of Fandi Ahmad, Malek Awab, Nazri Nasir and Rafi Ali.”
“And before I retire, I had the chance to play with Baihakki Khaizan, Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri. Those are good moments, having the chance to play with different generations.”