In the first leg of the highly anticipated Causeway Challenge between arch-rivals Singapore and Malaysia, the match ended in an entertaining 2-2 draw after the Lions rescued the game in injury time thanks to Qiu Li.
Starting with a line-up of LionsXII players, Singapore was the brighter of the two sides, forcing Malaysian keeper Khairul Fahmi into action just three minutes in.
Shaiful Esah playing on the left flank, sent a pinpoint cross into the penalty box looking for teammate Agu Casmir, but the striker was denied as Fahmi acrobatically tipped over his header.
The first-half remained one-way traffic as the Lions controlled the ball and had the better scoring opportunities.
The deadlock was almost broken on 24 minutes as a superb corner from Shaiful found defender Safuwan Baharauddin, but the young defender’s header was cleared off the line, and only for the rebound to reach Baihakki, but the Singapore captain’s shot went just wide of the post.
However against the run of play, Malaysia opened the scoring just two minutes before halftime through Azamuddin Akil.
The 27 year old Akil who was subbed on just minutes earlier, fired an unstoppable shot past a hapless Izwan Mahbud to make it 1-0 to the Tigers, thanks to good work by Safee Sali who teed him up nicely after breaking the offside trap.
In an attempt to rescue the game, coach Raddy Avramovic made four changes at the start of the second half, bringing on experienced internationals Shi Jiayi, Qiu Li, Daniel Bennett and Mustafic Fahrudin.
However the veterans failed to make a difference as Malaysia went on to extend their lead on the hour mark. Captain Safiq Rahim’s beautifully flighted freekick hit the back of the net and left Lions keeper Izwan rooted to the ground, making it 2-0 to the Tigers.
The Malaysians then employed time-wasting tactics. One by one the Tigers fell to ground easily, appearing to suffer from cramps or perceived injuries.
The Lions almost found a way back on 83 minutes when a dubious penalty was awarded to Singapore after Khairul Fahmi appeared to clip substitute Khairul Nizam in the penalty box. However, Qiu Li’s weakly taken penalty was comfortably saved by the Malaysian custodian.
But the Lions made amends with two minutes to go after a defensive mix-up and miscommunication resulted in a freekick awarded inside the penalty box to the Lions.
Shahdan Sulaiman took advantage of the chance and coolly curled the ball into the net to pull one back for Singapore.
With five minutes of injury time given, the Lions were then saved at the death by Qiu Li who made up for his poor penalty with a ferocious shot from outside the penalty area that very nearly broke the net, making it 2-2 and saving Singapore’s blushes at the Jalan Besar Stadium.