|By Teng Kiat
Singapore will take a two-goal advantage to Thailand after beating them 2-1 in the first leg of the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup final earlier tonight.
Goals from Mustafic Fahrudin, Khairul Amri and Baihakki Khaizan saw Singapore emerge triumphant in a hard-fought victory at the Jalan Besar Stadium, with President Tony Tan amongst those watching on.
The home side pressed hard straight from kick-off, with Khairul Amri and Aleksandar Duric seeing their efforts go wide one after the other in the opening two minutes.
The early pressure paid off in the 8th minute when Duric won a penalty after being pulled down by right-back Piyaphon Buntao in the area.
Mustafic saw his first successful spot-kick ruled out for infringement, but the midfield hardman kept his cool to smash home the second time round.
After a high-tempo opening 15 minutes, the game started to slow down, as Singapore kept two midfielders back to screen the defence whenever they went forward to avoid being caught on the break.
The visitors then went close to equalizing four minutes later when Anucha Kitpongsri latched onto a through ball and dragged his left-footed effort inches past the far post.
The War Elephants started to settle into the game after the restart, and they drew level in the 59th minute when Adul Lahsoh easily tapped home a Teerasil cross on the break.
But Thailand barely had time to celebrate as Singapore went ahead again just two minutes later through Khairul Amri’s neat finish, which was his third goal in as many Suzuki Cup finals.
Collecting Duric’s low cross from the left with his back to goal, the striker dragged the ball onto his right foot and swiveled in one smooth motion to fire it into the bottom corner of Kawin Thamsatchanan’s goal.
Their opponents sought an instant response and they nearly got it as Singapore goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud got a superb touch to tip Jakkapan Pornsai’s 25-yard freekick onto the crossbar. At the other end, Kawin was similarly forced into action to push Shaiful Esah’s 30-yard set-piece behind for a corner.
Shaiful’s left foot had caused problems for the Thais all night, and it was from his corner that Singapore got a third in the 91st minute to raise the roof off the stadium.
Centreback Baihakki Khaizan was in the right place at the right time to lash home a loose ball when it fell to him at the far post, before reeling away to celebrate in front of a delighted full-house crowd who had just witnessed what could be a momentous Singapore victory.