By Kenneth Tan
Rewind to 2007, the last time Singapore reached the final of the AFF Suzuki Cup: the Lions took on then-Southeast Asia’s best team Thailand in a titanic battle, and a win meant equaling the latter’s record three titles.
The first leg was played at Singapore’s National Stadium and the Lions emerged 2-1 in a tempestuous affair, which was infamous for the walk-out incident by Thailand. The second leg in Thailand was settled after Khairul Amri’s stunner wiped out Pipat Thonkanya’s first-half strike to win the Cup for Singapore.
That was the last time the Lions held the coveted regional trophy aloft and for the winning captain that year, Aide Iskandar, that triumphant edition was the last time he took part in this competition.
Fast forward five years, and the Lions will once again face off against Thailand – similarly playing the home leg first, before travelling back up north for the away leg.
Speaking to Goal.com Singapore, the now-retired Aide shared his experiences about shackling the region powerhouses.
“We knew we were up against a very good side,” the 37-year-old recalled.
“I remember they had players like Datsakorn [Thonglao], Kiatisuk [Senamuang] and Suree Sukha.
"What we did then in the two matches was to keep our concentration levels at our very best and to stay compact as a unit [and] we did that really well at that time.”
Despite the addition of the away goals rule in this edition, the current assistant coach of Singapore believes the Thais will not take any risks by deploying an attacking strategy to grab that advantage.
“I believe Thailand will adopt a soak-and-strike strategy as they’ll want to attack in the second leg,” he said.
However, Aide believes the key to beating Thailand is in the mental game - in particular, dealing with their midfield maestro Datsakorn Thonglao.
The 28-year-old’s playmaking skills is well-known, but it’s the other side of his game that could be susceptible.
Over the years, Datsakorn has gained a notorious reputation of winding up opponents, and it looks like that tag will continue to stick after a clash with Malaysia’s Fadhli Shas in the second leg of their semi-final resulted in the latter being sent off.
“I think the most important thing against Thailand is to keep our composure. We need to stop him [Datsakorn] as he’s the link for their attacks, but the most important thing is that our players should not fall into his trap especially in off-the-ball incidents," Aide stressed.
"He’s a smart player who may wind opponents up and get them sent off. Malaysia fell into that and have to play with ten men as a result. We wouldn’t want to play with a man less, so we need to keep our composure at all times.”
On a final note, the 37-year-old urged every single member of the Lions to step up their game in order to clinch a dream fourth title.
"Everyone will need to be at their best at this stage,” he concluded.