SINGAPORE (Dec 21, 2008) – Striker Nguyen Quang Hai sent Vietnam into their second final in the history of this regional tournament when he netted the winner in the 75th minute of the second leg AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal battle at the National Stadium tonight.
Quang Hai’s crucial strike sent defending champions Singapore out of the competition and destroyed their dreams of a record fourth title. Vietnam, who were held in Hanoi in the first leg, have set the stage for final showdown against their arch rivals and three-time champions Thailand on Dec 24 and Dec 28.
The famous Kallang roar suddenly fell silent as the fans watched in disbelief. But the 50,000 spectators, mainly Singaporean fans, quickly threw their support behind the Lions again in the hope that they would hit the target.
Singapore, who were in control for the better half of the game, tried desperately but the all important goal never came. They in fact, almost equalised on at least two occasions but was stopped by goalkeeper Duong Hong Son, who along with Quang Hai were the heroes of the Vietnam team tonight.
The victory for Vietnam today came at a high price as defender Doan Viet Cuong was given the sack after picking up a second booking in injury time. An overzealous attack on Singapore’s Daniel Bennett led to his exit and more importantly a place in the final.
For Vietnam, the win may finally heal the wounds of the 1998 final when Singapore defeated them 1-0.
That was Singapore’s first-ever title and also the last time Vietnam appeared in the final. “Our fans, not just the ones here, but the many back home, are great and they deserved this victory. This win tonight is dedicated to them,” said coach Henrique Calisto after the match.
In the first half, there were more yellow cards in the first half then there were attempts at goal. Vietnam picked up three bookings while Singapore had one. In what was a tough opening 45 minutes, both sides wanted to show they were in charge and that resulted in some overzealous tackles that kept Malaysian referee Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh very busy.
The first bookings of the night were issued to Mohammad Shahril Ishak and Doan Viet Cuong in the 16th minute. Nguyen Viet Thang and skipper Phan Van Tai Em were booked in the 23rd and 43rd minutes.
Singapore’s closest chance was in the last few minutes after Shi Jiayi sent in a corner which left the Vietnamese scrambling to clear the ball off the line.
After the break, it was more of Singapore and Mohd Noh Alam Shah. With the superb support from Muhammad Ridhuan Muhamad down the right, Mohd Noh had several chances but failed to convert any of them.
Singapore were doing all the attacking and in a quick counter-attack, Cong Vinh, Vietnam’s number one striker, stormed down the left flank, leaving the defenders in his wake. He then set-up Quang Hai, who had the easiest task of slipping the ball in.