Thailand fall short against Singapore (Bangkok Post) (23/12/2012)

War Elephants denied on aggregate despite winning thrilling second leg of Suzuki Cup final
Singapore won the Asean title for a record fourth time with a 3-2 aggregate win over Thailand, despite the Lions' 1-0 loss in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final last night.

Thailand striker Kirati Keawsombut scored the only goal on the night in a one-sided match at a packed Supachalasai Stadium but it was not enough to overturn Singapore's 3-1 win in the first leg on Wednesday.

It was a repeat of the 2007 final, in which Singapore won 2-1 in the first leg and then held Thailand to a 1-1 draw at Supachalasai Stadium in the return leg in Bangkok.

Thailand coach Winfried Schaefer blamed the Thai Premier League season, which he claimed was too long, as one of the factors behind his men's unsuccessful Suzuki Cup campaign.

"Every Thai player played very well throughout the match," Schaefer said after the match.

"Some of them were too tired because of the long domestic league, but they gave their all for their country. I don't like second place and I really wanted to win the tournament. We played better but anything can happen in football."

He also blamed the Football Association of Thailand for arranging too few international warm-up matches for his men.

A disappointed Thai fan
Schaefer, though, still believes Thailand have a bright future and could become as strong as South Korea or Japan.

"We have a good team and can become stronger in the future," he said. "We will now look forward to the Asian Cup qualifying and we will have to start working hard soon."

Victorious Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic said: "I am very happy that we are No.1 of Asean football.

"In the end we deserved to win, because we scored three goals [in the first leg]. It was a long, hard campaign. Thailand were not the losers today, we won at home and they won here. But the difference is that we had some luck."

Earlier, Avramovic confirmed that he would step down as coach of Singapore after the tournament. The 63-year-old Serb took over as Singapore coach in 2003 and led the Lions to three Asean titles in 2004, 2007 and 2012.

At Supachalasai Stadium, Singapore made the most of their two-goal advantage on aggregate and clung on despite relentless pressure from the spirited home side, who were left to rue missed chances.

Schaefer started with two strikers, Teerasil Dangda teaming up with Kirati. The War Elephants threw everything at the visitors and dominated the game but failed to break Singapore's defence until the final moments of the first half.

Kirati's bullet header gave Thailand hope of winning the title for the first time since 2002, which was their third triumph in the Southeast Asian championship.

But they could not find a second goal, Singapore's defence resolute in the face of wave after wave of Thai attacks.

Baihakki Khaizan, who scored the crucial third goal in Singapore on Wednesday, starred for the visitors, making a series of key blocks and headers at the heart of his side's defence to keep the Thai front line at bay.

He was helped by his goalkeeper, Izwan Mahbud, who made a vital save minutes from the end after substitute Chanathip Songkrasin slalomed into the box before unleashing a shot which would have secured the title for Thailand.

Singapore took home US$200,000 in prize money while Thailand received US$75,000.

Teerasil won a consolation award as the tournament's top scorer with five goals. However, he failed to find the back of the net in the final.