Hafiz Abu Sujad distraught after seeing red
Red-carded midfielder pleads his innocence; Sundram and teammates lend their support
Hafiz Abu Sujad must be thinking: Why always me?
In Singapore's last game at the AFF Suzuki Cup two years ago, he was in the thick of controversy when he conceded a late penalty against Malaysia - which many felt was a harsh call - that eventually led to the Lions being kicked out of the tournament at the group stage on home soil.
Last night, the 26-year-old midfielder was forced to an early shower when he saw a straight red after just 34 minutes of Singapore's tournament opener against the Philippines in Manila.
As far as the Lions were concerned, the colour of the card was debatable.
As he turned to try to control a bouncing ball, Hafiz raised his left leg high, with Philippines captain Phil Younghusband coming in from his blindside.
The Singapore man caught the former Chelsea trainee with his challenge, and the Filipino went down clutching his face.
Syrian referee Masoud Naifa immediately reached for the red card, much to the horror of Hafiz and his teammates.
Even though his teammates managed to survive the onslaught against Asean's top ranked team and escape with a precious point after a 0-0 draw, Hafiz was distraught after the match.
He told The New Paper: "Of course I'm feeling very down.
"With 11 men on the pitch, we had a chance to get the win we wanted.
"Credit to the team, they played their hearts out and got the point in the end.
"But I'm very unhappy with the referee's decision.
"It was unintentional and I wasn't even facing him.
"It happened so fast... I still cant believe it."
Hafiz's coach and teammates backed him.
Lions coach V Sundramoorthy felt the red card was "harsh", and said he would review a video of the incident, while Safuwan Baharudin felt the sending-off was "soft".
M Anumanthan added: "For me, it's not a red card.
"Hafiz's leg was not that high, and even (Younghusband) said it did not hit his face.
"But the referee's decision is final and we cannot go against it."
Skipper Hariss Harun hailed the fighting spirit of his teammates.
"Hafiz was unlucky because he didn't mean the challenge," said the midfielder, who turned 26 yesterday.
"But putting that aside... the result was a credit to everybody.
"We had to run a lot without the ball tonight and that's never easy."