|By Kenneth Tan
Five long years but it was worth the wait. Singapore have successfully made it to their first AFF Suzuki Cup final since 2007 and their fourth in total.
Singapore coach Raddy Avramovic retained the same starting eleven that ground out a draw in Manila while Philippines counterpart Michael Weiss made one change in bringing in the returning Jerry Lucena for Jason De Jong at the heart of midfield.
Raddy’s approach to the game was evident for all to see – clamping down on the larger-sized opposition players with an aggressive approach to shut them down.
Isa Halim went in strong on Phil Younghusband and Paul Mulders within 5 minutes of kickoff while Baihakki Khaizan bundled Phil over on two occasions thereafter.
The tide soon turned towards the home side as they began to launch attacks towards the Philippines goal.
Shaiful Esah volleyed just wide on 11 minutes while Safuwan Baharudin fluffed his header after Aleksandar Duric flicked-on a Shaiful corner.
Third time lucky the Lions may call it, as they found the back of the net on their third attempt on goal.
A freekick near the edge of the box on 19 minutes was teed up for an unmarked Khairul Amri who took no second invitations by coolly firing an unnerving effort past a rooted Ed Sacapano in the Philippines goal.
It was the Lions’ first goal against the Azkals in four matches and they were not ready to rest on their laurels.
Shaiful flashed an effort over from 25 yards out while Baihakki’s header from the latter’s deadball was well held by Sacapano.
Amri nearly found a second on 31 minutes when Sacapano fluffed a clearance from Duric’s cross inside his own box, but credit to the custodian he redeemed himself with a great palm to deny the goalscorer’s fierce drive.
Duric had an opportunity himself four minutes later when he was released through on goal by Shahdan Sulaiman, however the angle proved too tight to beat the keeper.
In contrast to the ease which the Lions had in creating openings, the Azkals found it hard to produce their usual passing play and did not even register a single shot on goal.Both coaches decided to switch things around at the break, with Raddy bringing on Fazrul Nawaz for the possibly injured Fahrudin while Weiss decided to use Emelio Caligdong’s experience in place of Patrick Reichelt.
As a result of the substitution, Shahdan was pushed back to support Isa while Amri was pushed to the left side of attack.
However despite the changes, the tempo of the game took a turn for the worse as it lacked the intensity of the first half.
Singapore created a couple of chances through captain Shahril Ishak who was off-target with two ambitious efforts, while Philippines struggled to get going as James was duly hauled off for the energy of Demitrius Omphroy.With Phil looking out-of-sorts in attack, Weiss introduced forward Denis Wolf to add bite to his attack for the last eight minutes.
However they huffed and puffed, they just could not bring the Lions' roof down. Eventually the final whistle came as the victorious Singapore fans brought the Jalan Besar house down with deafening roars at their team’s success.