Football: Lions accept 'Christmas gifts'

The potent free kick of deadball specialist Shaiful Esah (not in picture) eluded everyone, including the Myanmar goalkeeper as the ball found its way to the back of the net for Singapore's opener.

SINGAPORE - Irony was written all over the National Stadium scoreboard after Singapore had beaten Myanmar 4-2 in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup last night, outwitting their former mentor Raddy Avramovic.

As the Serb made an emotional return as a rival coach, he was beaten by two Lions he had groomed into fine instruments of warfare.

Hariss Harun scored two brilliant goals amid a complete midfield performance while left-back Shaiful Esah's surgical dead-ball delivery resulted in another two.

Furthermore, the Lions' performance had Avramovic's coaching DNA of quick counters and deadly set-pieces encoded within.

But the 64-year-old was more concerned about his team's generosity, which saw them go down 3-0 at half-time before 24,000 fans at Kallang.

He said: "Christmas had come early to Singapore. Presents were given out. We gave them at least three goals. We played well but our concentration cost us."

On the other hand, Singapore coach Bernd Stange was a happy man, describing the result as a "clear and comfortable win".

He said: "I had heard that we are a defensive team.

"But we had scored five goals in two matches. That sounds like attacking football."

Intending to soak up waves of Singapore attacks before attacking after the break, Avramovic's plan backfired after Shaiful's free kick crept in.

By half-time, Hariss had added a pair of ferocious volleys to give the hosts a commanding lead.

"The plan was perfect but we didn't predict we will give three really easy goals," the former Singapore coach lamented.

Myanmar, turbo-charged by the vociferous support from 3,000 of their fans, nearly rescued a point after the break, as midfielder Kyaw Zayar Win waltzed into the box to score in the 55th minute.

Star striker Kyaw Ko Ko added a second with a 62nd-minute penalty after he was tripped by Safuwan Baharudin.

But all hopes of a Myanmar fightback were doused in the 76th minute when skipper Khin Maung Lwin headed Shaiful's free kick past his own goalkeeper.

Despite the Lions defence looking fragile and nervous under the Myanmar onslaught, Stange refused to blame his backline, especially with the Lions facing arch-rivals Malaysia on Saturday in their Group B finale at Kallang.

He insisted: "After a clear 4-2 win over a strong Myanmar team, I have no reason to say anything."

But Avramovic begged to differ, saying: "I'm afraid if (Singapore) play like today, it will be difficult. Malaysia are a good team."

Singapore's win was blemished by a sickening injury suffered by Shahdan Sulaiman in the 21st minute when the Tampines Rovers midfielder collided with Khairul Amri and broke his fibula.

Right-back Ismadi Mukhtar also limped off with a groin strain.

Centre-back Baihakki Khaizan will also be suspended against Malaysia after he was booked for a body check on Kyaw, his second caution of the tournament.

Stange now faces a dilemma as he toys with the idea of deploying Man of the Match Hariss to deputise in defence against Malaysia.

After his colossal display last night, it will be unwise not to let the vice-captain stay in midfield.

The 66-year-old coach says he is still undecided where the Johor Darul Takzim player will start but is eager at the prospect of meeting the Tigers on Saturday.

"We will have a final before the Final," he chirped.

"We have to beat Malaysia.

"This is not the first derby in my life. It will be a special game and, hopefully, there will be a full stadium."

This article was first published on November 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.