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Lions hold Indonesia for spot in semis

Theng Wai Mun

Indra Sahdan (in blue), landing on the scoresheet for Singapore.

A 2-2 draw with Indonesia on Wednesday evening clinched the point Singapore needed to qualify for the Asean Football Championship semifinals as Group B winners.

The result, coupled with Vietnam’s 9-0 drubbing of Laos in a concurrent match, put the Championship holders through on goal difference in a tight group where all the teams, save for Laos, were tied on five points.

Noh Alam Shah and Indra Sahdan twice gave Singapore the lead, only for the Indonesians to equalize both times in a battle of charged tempers and tested nerves.

But the side that reached the last three Championship finals failed to force a winner, leaving them crashing out of the semifinals even as Singapore booked a date with old rivals Malaysia, starting with a trip to Kuala Lumpur early next week.

Radojko Avramovic expectedly made two changes to the starting eleven that thumped Laos two days earlier, restoring veteran campaigners Aide Iskandar and S. Subramani.

Indonesia coach Peter Withe meanwhile went for offensive strength in midfield, dropping Syamsul Bachri as speedy winger Atep started on the right.

Indeed, pace was the name of Indonesia’s game as they went on the attack quickly, Mahyadi Panggabean heading the ball wide of Singapore’s goal inside the first minute.

But Singapore were as aggressive in their pursuit of an early lead, Ridhuan Muhammad nearly reaching Indra’s cross in the fifth minute before hitting his delivery on the right too hard just three minutes later.

The Lions got the start they wanted in the ninth minute, when Indra was felled inside the box by a panicking Hendro Kartiko, who had raced off his line as both chased a long lob by Daniel Bennett.

The veteran goalkeeper was booked for his trouble, and then had to pick the ball out of the net sixty seconds later when Alam Shah sent him the wrong way with his spot kick.

Having seized the lead, the signs initially looked good for Singapore, who braced themselves for the expected onslaught from an Indonesian side needing victory to reach the semifinals.

What they had not counted on was the refereeing that would be dished out by Thai Chawalit Sananwai, who booked Shahril Ishak following a controversial offside call, then showed Mustafic Fahrudin his second yellow card of the tournament on 21 minutes.

All this went on even as Alam Shah appeared to have been singled out for provocation by the opposing defence, which was happening behind the referee’s back when he penalized Precious Emuejeraye for a foul in the 26th minute.

Precious managed to block Mahyadi’s low free kick, but Ilham Jayakesuma reacted fastest to slam the ball past a partly-obstructed Lionel Lewis for Indonesia’s equalizer.

From that point, Indonesia were on the rise for the rest of the half, swamping the midfield as Mustafic and Shi Jiayi went quiet for fear of offending the unpredictable Chawalit.

Lewis had to be alert to parry Atep’s long shot in the 37th minute, and he managed a sigh of relief two minutes later when a similar effort by Eka Ramdani just glided over the bar.

The half-time break proved useful as the Lions collected their nerves in the dressing room, and they emerged eager to restore their lead as quickly as possible.

That objective was achieved seven minutes after the break, as Alam Shah sprang the offside trap on the left from a long pass and sent a cross in for Indra.

Hendro got a touch but could not collect the ball, which Indra tried to guide home with his thigh even as Erol Iba raced back in an effort to prevent the goal.

But the fullback’s attempt to clear the ball came back off the crossbar, leaving a gleeful Indra with the simple task of heading the ball into the net from all of one yard out.

Just four minutes later, however, it was all square once more, as Mahyadi’s corner found an unmarked Zaenal Arief at the far post.

Given room to pick his options, the 26-year-old went for a speculative lobbed shot that went over Lewis before hitting the back of the Singapore net.

The pressure piled on in the Lions’ faces as Indonesia went in search for their third goal, taking its toll on Subramani and Shi as both had to be substituted following injuries.

Indra came close to scoring twice at the other end, while Bennett and substitute Khairul Amri had their chances as well. However, it was mostly a tale of frantic defending as Lewis had to bail his jittery teammates out on numerous occasions.

Thankfully for the Singapore fans, the backline managed to deny their opponents for over half an hour, surviving the Indonesian heat as the seconds ticked towards the final whistle.

And when it finally came, the Lions held on tenaciously to the point they needed, sending them into the semifinals – and a mouth-watering double-header with “the auld enemy”.

Avramovic relieved as Withe bemoans elimination

Singapore national coach Radojko Avramovic was relieved to survive a “very hard” game against Indonesia, which yielded the draw that sent his side into the semifinals.

The Lions put up a performance that was less than stellar as Indonesia piled on the pressure, but the Serbian said he “can’t complain” about his players’ commitment.

“As expected, it was a very hard game, as Indonesia is a good team,” he remarked.

“We had a good period after we made it 1-0, but actually we didn’t play properly in the first half. I told the players at half-time that we should go out and play in the second half.

“But then the second half turned out very similar. Some players made mistakes, but at least we achieved the result we wanted to go further in this tournament.

“I would be angry with anyone who didn’t try hard enough, but I can’t complain about any player now, because all of them tried hard and had good intentions. Now, we must just review what went wrong and avoid doing it again.”

Indonesia national coach Peter Withe lashed out at Singapore’s tactics following the match, suggesting that the ‘negative’ approach had denied his team a semifinals spot.

The Englishman proceeded to proclaim that he was satisfied with his team’s performance in the Championship, even though Indonesia have failed to clear the group stage for only the first time in the tournament’s history.

“I knew Singapore wouldn’t come out, and they would take their time with everything they did,” said a bitter Withe.

“I don’t know if I would do the same negative thing if I were in Singapore’s position, because I like to play an attacking game. The fact is that Singapore came out trying to kill the game and stop our flow, knowing they can afford to spoil it.

“I felt we created enough opportunities and did well in the tournament. If anyone says to me that the performance of the team was not good, I would defend the players to the hilt and point out that we gave 100% in every single game.

“Looking at the other teams, I’m disappointed that we are not going to the next round.”

Singapore: Lionel Lewis, S. Subramani (Hafiz Osman 59), Precious Emuejeraye, Aide Iskandar, Daniel Bennett, Ridhuan Muhammad, Mustafic Fahrudin, Shi Jiayi (Isa Halim 67), Shahril Ishak, Noh Alam Shah, Indra Sahdan (Khairul Amri 78).

Indonesia: Hendro Kartiko, Ismed Safyan, Firmansyah, Richardo Salampessy, Erol Iba (Agus Indra Kurniawan 86), Atep, Eka Ramdani (Budi Sudarsono 81), Ponaryo Astaman, Mahyadi Panggabean, Zaenal Arief (Bambang Pamungkas 76), Ilham Jayakesuma. 


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