LionsXII receive a heroes' welcome at Changi Airport

LionsXII receive a heroes' welcome at Changi Airport
SIGN, SAHIL: Sahil Suhaimi shaking hands with a fan (above) after arriving at Changi Airport yesterday.

For two hours last night, Changi Airport's Terminal 2 felt and looked like the Jalan Besar Stadium.

More than 2,000 fans crowded the entrance outside Belt 31, singing and cheering as they waited for their Malaysian FA Cup-winning heroes.

Dressed mostly in red, the fans made sure Fandi Ahmad and his LionsXII team received a welcome they are likely to remember forever.

As the Singapore side collected their luggage inside the arrival hall, the fans sang Fandi's name.

When that tune was over, they chanted for Sahil Suhaimi - the LionsXII's match-winner at the Bukit Jalil Stadium against Kelantan on Saturday night.

On as a second-half substitute, the 22-year-old striker scored with a wonderful solo effort which started from inside his own half to give his team the lead on 82 minutes.

Then he made sure the FA Cup made its way to Singapore for the first time when he thumped home an injury-time penalty for an emphatic 3-1 victory.

"Sahil! Sahil!" has not been a familiar cry at the Jalan Besar Stadium this season. After all, he has been used mostly as a substitute.

But, if Saturday's Cup final is anything to go by, that chant will ring around the terraces in due time. Perhaps as early as next Monday, when the Singapore Under-23 team kick off their South-east Asia (SEA) Games football campaign against the Philippines. Sahil, the Young Lions' top scorer with three goals when they bagged the bronze medal at the 2013 Games in Myanmar, is set to lead the line at the biennial Games again.

When the players exited the hall, they were greeted by pandemonium.

Fandi shook hands and high-fived at least 100 people, including Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Goalkeeper and vice-captain Izwan Mahbud was mobbed before he shared an embrace with his mother.

Sahil and Faris Ramli, the team's goalscorers in the final, could not have a second without fans pleading for a wefie.

When The New Paper tried to grab Sahil for a quick interview, the stocky striker was pulled away by fans.

Later, speaking over the phone, Sahil said: "I didn't see (the fans' reception) coming, man.

"I expected there to be fans at the airport, maybe around 100 maximum, but not this many! It was just crazy."

Sahil added that he also did not expect to be a two-goal hero in the Cup final.

The former Courts Young Lions player, who has seven international caps, broke out in tears of joy after the game, which he said he will remember for the rest of his life.

"We were leading 1-0 when I came on, and I just wanted to help defend our lead and not let my teammates down," he said.

"I wanted to do my part; I really didn't expect to score twice."

Now, Sahil fears that he and Faris will be marked men when the SEA Games football tournament kicks off.

"(Winning) this FA Cup is definitely a boost for me, and I can't wait to share the experience with my teammates (in the Under 23s)," he added.

"But the danger now is that our opponents will watch Faris and I closely. It won't be easy, I expect two or three players marking us in some games."

SMARTER

Heading into his second SEA Games, Sahil said he has become a little wiser. But, when asked if he could be the top scorer of the tournament, the youngster laughed. "I'll do my best," he replied. "But, honestly, the aim is to do well and reach the final. It doesn't matter who scores as long as we win our games.

"We created history on Saturday, and now I want to create history at the SEA Games, by winning the gold medal."

Faris, 22, who is also a likely starter in the Under-23 side coached by Aide Iskandar, said the FA Cup win has boosted his confidence ahead of the Games.

"The (Under-23) coaches have spoken to me and they expect me to guide the younger players and I intend to do that," he said.

"Winning the FA Cup is an amazing feeling, but winning the SEA Games gold at the National Stadium will be something special as well.

"Because nothing can compare to winning in front of your own fans."

aakasim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 25, 2015.
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