Singapore – Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic has insisted that it is still too early to write off Thailand’s hopes in the AFF Suzuki Cup final despite his team’s 3-1 victory in the first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday.
While the Thais were regarded as the favourites heading into the tie, it was the Lions who stamped their authority on the match with an early penalty by Fahrudin Mustafic and second-half strikes by Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan dealing the War Elephants their first loss of the tournament.
However, Adul Lahso’s away goal for the Thais could yet prove crucial to the final outcome and Avramovic remains wary despite the fact that no team has managed to overcome a deficit to win an AFF Suzuki Cup final.
“Both teams are capable of scoring and both teams are capable of winning at home or away,” said the Serbian.
“We are, in some ways, lucky to get a good result. But now it is up to us to go to Thailand and to try to score, because if we don’t it will be very, very difficult.
“The Thai players have exceptionally good technique,” he added. “They are capable of pushing extra players in midfield and they created big problems for us.
“Fortunately, our players kept their cool and they kept their shape and all of the players managed to play their part in the plan that we had before the game.
“You must also be lucky in games like this and we were lucky. However, this result is good for us and now we have to go and just play for another 90 minutes.
“We have a target and now we are close. There is one more game to go and then we can think about other things.”
Avramovic felt that both teams managed to produce an enthralling contest worthy of the occasion.
“We all expected a good game and it was a good game between the two best teams in this competition,” he said. “I think that everyone who came out for this game really enjoyed themselves because it was exciting and it finished with a few goals.
“I think that we kept cool and we kept our patience and in the end, we succeeded in getting a good result. The players did exactly what they had been preparing to do and again they did an absolutely great job. So congratulations to all of them. Each of them played their part.”
For Avramovic, a key moment was the twice-taken penalty converted in the 10th minute by Fahrudin, who had been battling to recover from a groin problem in the build-up to the game.
“Yesterday I asked him (Fahrudin) if he was ready to take a penalty during the game and he said yes,” said the Lions boss.
“We made a decision that we would have three players ready if he had any problem. But he kept his cool and that gave the team a great big push.
“He and Isa Halim were really doubtful for the game but the medical staff did a great job to get them ready to play.”
Meanwhile, Amri made history by becoming the first player to score in three AFF Suzuki Cup finals, just two minutes after Adul had levelled for the Thais. However, Avramovic felt that the striker was still not back to his best after being laid low by a series of injuries in the past four years.
“He is still not yet 100 per cent match fit,” he said of the 27-year-old. “You could see in the last 20 minutes that he was really struggling but that will come with time and with games.
“He just needs to practice and come regularly for training and look after himself.”
Baihakki’s third international goal, which came in stoppage time, gave the Lions a two-goal cushion to take to Bangkok for the return match. However, Avramovic insisted it was not the margin of victory that mattered to him but the fact that his team had won the game.
“Of course there is a big difference between winning 2-1 and 3-1. But what was really important for us to do was to win this game no matter what the score and then try to see what we could do in the second leg. It was very important to win this game and the boys have done that,” he said.
One thing he insists will not happen in the return game is his side attempting to sit on their lead.
“Maybe if they (Thailand) provide us with a nice chair, then maybe we can sit back,” he quipped.