Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Fast facts from previous finals

The ninth AFF Suzuki Cup final brings together the two most successful teams in the region's leading competition, Thailand and Singapore, who have each won the competition three times previously.

Ahead of the showdown between the War Elephants and the Lions, has uncovered some interesting facts about past Asean Football Championship finals.

  • The first four finals from 1996 to 2002 were played as single championship matches at a pre-determined venue. Thailand were hugely successful in that format, winning in Singapore in 1996, in Bangkok in 2000 and in Jakarta in 2002. However, they have not lifted the title since it became a two-legged affair in 2004.

  • The teams that have scored the first goal in all of the previous finals have always gone on to win the title. Since the finals went to a two-leg format, the teams that have won the first leg have always held on in the return match to lift the trophy.

  • Only three teams – Thailand in 2000, Singapore in 2004 and Vietnam in 2008 – have lifted the Asean Football Championship trophy in front of their own fans. The first final in 1996 between Thailand and Malaysia was played on neutral ground in Singapore but in the other four finals, Vietnam (1998), Indonesia (2002 and 2010) and Thailand (2007) watched their opponents claim the title on their home grounds.

  • Malaysia became the first team to lift the title despite losing a match in the final after they went down 2-1 to Indonesia in the second leg in Jakarta in 2010. They had won the first leg 3-0 in Kuala Lumpur to take the tie 4-2 on aggregate.

Finals chance finally come to Isa

Singapore – If not for Khairul Amri’s dramatic intervention, Isa Halim might have got a chance to play in the 2007 Asean Football Championship final. 

The midfielder was preparing to come on as a substitute in the second leg of the final with the tie deadlocked at 2-2 when Amri strode through the Thailand midfield and unleashed a thunderbolt that flew into the top corner of the net with nine minutes left for the winner which sparked off wild celebrations on the Singapore bench.

“When Amri scored, I was actually warming up and ready to get called on as (coach) Raddy (Avramovic) had already spoken to me and said that he would sub me in,” says Isa, who was warming up in the area behind the goal at the time of Amri’s strike.

“So I was all ready to come on but when Amri scored, we were all swept up in the joy of the moment and we started to celebrate.

“I’m not quite sure what happened but I didn’t get to go on at the end. We were under tremendous pressure after that goal so maybe Raddy forgot about me!

“As a player, of course you want to be involved in every match and not sitting on the bench. But what mattered more was that the team won and I think that I played my part for the team during that tournament,” adds Isa, who had started in both legs of the semi-final against Malaysia.

Five years on from that memorable night, the 26-year-old is finally getting his chance to play in the AFF Suzuki Cup final. Having shaken off a hamstring problem, he makes his 50th international appearance for the Lions in the first leg of the final against the Thais at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.

“It’s a great honour to have played 50 times for my country,” he says. “Every single time I have put on the national jersey, it’s always an honour for me to know that I have been chosen out of four million people to represent my country. That feeling will never change.”

Isa is especially appreciative of the opportunity to play in the final as he was by no means a regular starter at the onset of the tournament. Despite playing for Singapore in three previous editions of the AFF Suzuki Cup, he had to settle for a spot on the bench and did not get any playing time until he came on as a second-half substitute in the Lions’ third match against Laos.

But with Hariss Harun sidelined by a shin fracture and Shi Jiayi leaving the squad to deal with a family matter, he was pressed into action in the semi-finals against the Philippines and formed an effective partnership in midfield with Fahruddin Mustafic that stifled the Azkals over two legs.

“For me as a player, I had to wait for my chance but when it came, I had to prove my worth,” he says. “I think that I did well to prove myself in the last two games and now I am ready to start in the final.
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