LionsXII's sweet victory

Pictures by: 
Gary Goh
Benjamin Seetor
Report by: 
David Lee

It is a familiar National Day song that’s written in 1987. Some might find it corny, but the lyrics to We Are Singapore are so apt for an adaptation on a night of Malaysian Super League glory.

There was a time when people said that LionsXII won’t make it, but they did.

There was a time when troubles seemed too much for them to take, but they did.

For 45 minutes last night, the passes weren’t clicking, the set-pieces didn’t find a red shirt, and the finishes did not justify the possession. It was a night for heroes, but in the first half, they were nowhere to be found. As skipper Shahril Ishak told The New Paper: “Something just wasn’t right.”

The capacity Jalan Besar crowd, which included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was subdued at half-time, and some must have been thinking: “Will the LionsXII choke?” After all, they were playing against a very poor Felda United side who are second from bottom, at a venue where the LionsXII have amassed 28 points out of a possible 30.

Yet, despite having more than 70 per cent possession, they just could not find their way to goal. But maybe this match was reflective of a season where no one expected V Sundramoorthy’s men to meet their target of a top-five finish. 

Critics wondered where the goals were going to come from, after just four goals in their first five games. And there’s the statistic that stuck out like a sore thumb – none of his 29 players had experience winning a league title. But after 21 games in a six-month long campaign, Sundram and his men have answered all doubts in the best possible way.

They’ve beaten ATM FA, Selangor and Kelantan – three Malaysian powerhouse teams that they failed to overcome last season. They went on a 16-match unbeaten streak. They are unbeaten at home.

And last night, the heroes finally emerged in the second half and scored four well-worked goals to notch their biggest win of the season and seal the M-League title, the first by a Singaporean team since 1994, in style. All with a team of hastily-assembled Under-23 players, augmented by five senior players, and no foreigners.

Shahril said: “We worked hard, played hard. “We won the most games, conceded the least goals, we have the best goal difference and we really deserve this league title.”

Make no mistake about it, the 29-year-old has proven himself worthy of the AFF Player of the Year award, and it was his goal and three assists that destroyed Felda last night.

But the LionsXII team are not just about the older stars like Shahril. Under-23 players such as goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and defenders Shakir Hamzah, Safuwan Baharudin, Hafiz Abu Sujad and Faritz Abdul Hameed were all part of a watertight defence that has now kept nine clean sheets.

In midfield, Hariss Harun and Izzdin Shafiq sprayed passes with ease and controlled proceedings in the second half, while Faris Ramli and Nazrul Nazari went on overdrive on the flanks. Up front, striker Shahfiq Ghani has now established himself as a dependable striker, scoring his fifth goal of a remarkable debut season.

As the thousands of fans sang their hearts out inside Jalan Besar Stadium and outside at the People’s Association, the achievements of this LionsXII team will live on and be toasted in the history of Singapore football.

Much like a nostalgic song that lingers.

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on July 3, 2013.