Two years is a long time in football as witnessed by the revival of Singapore’s fortunes and the decline of Thailand between the 2002 and 2004 editions of the ASEAN Football Championship.

As co-hosts of the 2002 tournament, a lot was expected of Singapore but a bruising 4-0 loss to old foes Malaysia at a brimful National Stadium and subsequent failure to reach the semi-finals cut deeply into the country’s collective psyche.

Avramovic in the ascendency 

Fast forward to 2004 and with a new coach, Radojko Avramovic, at the helm and a side shorn of veterans from their famous ASEAN Football Championship victory in 1998, the Lions swept all before them to win the title for a second time.

The group stage of the tournament was jointly hosted by Malaysia and Vietnam but a revised format saw the knockout rounds played on a home and away basis.

Singapore helped bury the memories of losing at home to Malaysia two years before by beating Indonesia in the final 5-2 on aggregate.

By that stage defending champions Thailand were back home after a desperately disappointing campaign.

The War Elephants had won the title in 2002 with the so-called ‘Dream Team’ at the peak of their powers but with the influential Kiatisuk ‘Zico’ Senamuang, Tawan Sripan and a host of others missing from the squad the ‘Young Bloods’ under German coach Siegfried Held failed to qualify for the semis for the first time.

In spite of some poor results in World Cup qualifying, Avramovic stayed true to relative newcomers like striker Khairul Amri, midfielder Shahril Ishak and defender Baihakki Khaizan and they helped Singapore deliver the goods in the group stage, in Vietnam.

The Lions came from behind to draw 1-1 with the hosts and then played out a goalless draw against Indonesia. With the Indonesians inflicting a 3-0 reversal on Vietnam, Singapore completed the job of qualifying from Group A with a 6-2 win over Laos and a 3-0 victory against Cambodia.

Indonesia, playing attractive football and scoring goals for fun against the weaker teams in the group, topped the table on 10 points, two ahead of Singapore.


Minnows Myanmar impress

Group B in Malaysia proved to be an eye opener with Myanmar and the hosts progressing to the knockout stages at the expense of holders Thailand, whose young side never got into their stride. 

The Thais started their opening match against Myanmar well enough with a 14th-minute goal from midfielder Therdsak Chaiman – by far the oldest and most experienced player in the squad – but a late equaliser from Zaw Lynn Tun heaped pressure on them.

The ensuing 2-1 defeat by Malaysia, with Khalid Jamlus scoring both goals in the space of three second-half minutes, pointed the three-time winners towards the exit.


Myanmar stunned the hosts with a 1-0 win in their third match and subsequently topped Group B to shock observers and send a warning to their rivals.

They then lived up to the hype for long spells of their two-legged semi-final with Singapore before self-destructing.

Myanmar lost the first leg of the last-four encounter in Malaysia 4-3 to set up an incredible return match at Singapore’s National Stadium.


Drama in Singapore; Indonesia progress

Adapting well to a muddy pitch, Myanmar took the aggregate lead thanks to goals from Soe Myat Min and Aung Kyaw Moe.

But then, with a final place within their grasp, things started to unravel with Yan Paing being sent off for a second bookable offence and Lynn Tun slicing into his own net - trying to clear a header from Noh Alam Shah – as Singapore drew level on aggregate.

Then, remarkably, Myanmar were reduced to eight men in the dying minutes with Lynn Tun being given his marching orders for a foul, leading to a penalty, and Moe Kyaw Thu also seeing red for kicking mud at the referee.

Singapore missed the penalty but with an overwhelming advantage in numbers in extra time they scored three times with Alam Shah hitting the target twice and Agu Casmir tapping home from close range to hand the home side an 8-5 aggregate victory.

Indonesia awaited them in the final after a thrilling semi-final win over Malaysia. Two goals by Liew Kit Kong gave the Tigers a shock 2-1 away win and they seemed destined for the final when Khalid Jamlus scored the opening goal in the return match.

But Indonesia, coached by Peter Withe who had guided Thailand to back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2002, found another gear and second-half goals from Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto, Charis Yulianto, Ilham Jaya Kesuma and Boaz Solossa saw them triumph 4-1 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate.


Lion’s roar to victory

Indonesia, playing in their third straight final, failed to reach those heights in the two-legged showdown with Singapore.

An early goal from Daniel Bennett, whose strike took a big deflection on its way into the net, put them on the back foot and Khairul Amri made it 2-0 in the 39th minute.

Matters worsened for the home side when Muhammad Mauli Lessy was sent off in the second half and Singapore turned the screw when Casmir scored their third goal.

A late strike by Mahyadi Panggabean gave Indonesia some hope but that was extinguished early in the return match when Indra Sahdan Daud, returning from an injury layoff, opened the scoring for Singapore much to the delight of the 55,000 crowd at the National Stadium.

Casmir added a second from the penalty spot just before half time and Elie Aiboy’s goal with 13 minutes remaining proved nothing more than a consolation as Singapore lifted their second ASEAN Football Championship title, 5-2 on aggregate.

As the ‘Kallang Roar’ reverberated around the venerable old stadium, Singapore put to rest the nightmare of two years earlier and gave their fans a night to cherish.

“It’s something I will always remember,” said Singapore goalkeeper Lionel Lewis, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “Winning on home soil in front of our fans and winning the MVP award, it will always stay with me for the rest of my life.”