By Kenneth Ho
Going into the tournament, nobody fancied the Lions to make it past the group stages.
Up against reigning champions Malaysia, and Asean powerhouse Indonesia, the failure of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup when Singapore failed to even make it past the group stages, the lowest ever Fifa world ranking (number 163) attained in Singapore’s history prior to the 2012’s edition, relying on a 42-year-old for goals, the list of things against the three-time champions goes on and on.
Even when Singapore made it past the group stages in this year’s competition, there were many whispers that we have exceeded expectations.
True, we did hand a 3-0 beating to arch-rivals Malaysia. But Singapore did not build on that platform, and followed up with a loss and an insipid performance to go with against Indonesia, before contriving to go down by two goals to Laos, and then digging deep to come back and win the game.
Yet, it seems that our Lions love it when the odds are against them, and it becomes their prerogative to fight against the condemnation laid upon them.
Think back to our first ever AFF victory in 1998. The retirement of Singapore’s footballing son Fandi Ahmad itself was the nail in the coffin, and goalkeeper David Lee’s retirement only served to hammer in the nail further. Nobody gave the Lions a chance. Yet, they fought and they won.
Look back at 2004, six years after capturing our first international title. Singapore had floundered in the 2002’s edition, and arrived as underdogs once again. Besides having a new coach, Singapore also barely made it past the group stages. But the Lions dug even deeper, and ended the tournament without losing a game.
The 2007 AFF tournament could be said to be the hardest of all. Winning the title and staying unbeaten is hard, but it is even harder to retain the championship and still remain unbeaten. Look at how there have ben only four countries who have ever won the title. But Singapore prevailed.
Up against the much-heralded Filipinos who were bursting with European-based players, nobody gave Singapore a chance. But the Lions refused to bow down to the naysayers, shown by their uncompromising and ferocious tackling against the bigger European-physique counterparts.
When the final whistle blew yesterday, Singapore confirmed our fourth appearance in the finals of the AFF tournament with a deserved win over Philippines.
The Lions have defended stoutly against a team blessed with European-based players. Where the cynics cry about our lack of attacking outlets, up stepped skipper Shahril Ishak and Khairul Amri with the flair and goals.
This is a side who loves it when the going gets tough. This is a side that has never lost an AFF Cup final before when the odds are against them. Destiny beckons, bring on the finals and the fourth title.