Khairul goal sets Singapore off to dream start
Singapore skipper's magnificent late strike sends hosts into dreamland
(Khairul Anwar 59)
It was the first competitive match on home soil, and he was also playing in front of Mum and Dad for the first time.
And Singapore captain Khairul Anwar did not let his parents, or any of the other 1,730 fans at the National Stadium, down.
With a minute remaining in the opening round-robin game of the Cerebral Palsy football competition against Indonesia at the 8th Asean Para Games yesterday, it looked as if the hosts would be denied victory, until Khairul came to the rescue with a proverbial captain's goal to hand his side a 1-0 triumph.
Only the two top teams advance to Wednesday's final and, with tougher tests ahead in the form of Myanmar and Thailand, the dramatic win could prove to be crucial in Singapore's bid for the gold medal.
Singled out for praise by opposition coach Fadilah Umar after being arguably Singapore's most influential player, Khairul was quick to share the plaudits with his teammates.
"There isn't really any word to describe how this feels, playing at home in front of this crowd, scoring the goal to win the first game of the event… It's just fantastic," said the beaming 29-year-old, after the game.
"We were giving it our best and, even though the first half was frustrating, we kept trying and pushing and it paid off in the end.
"It's not down to one man but a team effort and everyone deserves credit, not just me.
"Maybe I play a certain role for the team but everyone has a role to play and things can't happen if one link breaks down.
"I would like to thank the fans, who were fantastic, and we really hope they come again for the upcoming games."
The fans who turned up, despite the 9.30am kick-off, deserved credit for the support they gave, cheering on every attack and groaning in despair with every missed chance.
The players should also get plenty of praise for the quality of football they displayed.
It was the hosts who got off to a brighter start, with Mubarak Rastam causing all sorts of problems for the Indonesian defence, while Khairul, Shafiq Ariff and Shahidil Saidi all came close to opening the scoring in the first half.
Indonesia did pose more of a threat after half-time, but it was Singapore who continued to look the more dangerous of the two teams, although it was beginning to look as though it might not be their day with opposition goalkeeper Amin Rosyid keeping them at bay with a string of fine saves.
Then, with a minute to go, Singapore substitute Taufiq Baharin found space down the left and laid the ball back to Khairul, who brilliantly curled a 25-metre shot into the bottom corner to spark off wild scenes of celebration both on the field and in the stands.
Looking a relieved man at the final whistle, Singapore coach Zainudeen Hassan said: "It wasn't an easy game and it could have gone either way.
"Credit to them (Indonesia) for giving us a good game, but our boys showed their quality and this is definitely a good start.
"It's good that we have a rest day tomorrow but then we have a tough game against Myanmar.
"We have to keep the boys grounded. There are a lot of things to talk about and show them, and we'll be looking to come back even stronger against Myanmar.
"There were certainly many positives to take from today's game."
In yesterday's other match, Thailand recorded a dominant 6-1 win over Malaysia to take an early lead at the top of the table.
In a scintillating display, the Thais claimed the win courtesy of goals by Nattapong Wanna (2), Paisan Saechao (2), Wisan Tami and Chaloemchai Wisetrat, while Sobri Ghazali scored Malaysia's consolation.
- SINGAPORE: Firdaus Noor, Abdul Mahdi Rahman, Suhaimi Sudar, Khairul Anwar, Shaidil Saidi, Shafiq Ariff (Taufiq Baharin 53), Mubarak Rastam.
- INDONESIA: Amin Rosyid, Sobirin, Soni, Adi Joko Saputra, Fadhil, Habib Shaleh, Sigit Sudarsono Jono.
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Khairul Anwar (Singapore)