Singapore bow out of AFF Suzuki Cup with heroic display befitting Lions

Singapore entered AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 as underdogs. And while they may have come up just short in their quest to reach the final, they bowed out of the tournament on Saturday evening with a heroic display against Indonesia befitting their "Lions" nickname.

As they went down to ten men, then nine and remarkably eight, Singapore refused to throw in the towel. They took the lead despite the numerical deficit, squandered a chance to win it at the death, and then forced extra-time before ultimately falling to a 4-2 second-leg defeat that saw them lose the semifinal tie 5-3 on aggregate.

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Standing at attention after the final whistle with the fans -- who only just last week boasted a handful that booed the same players off the pitch following a 2-0 loss to Thailand -- singing the country's national anthem, this was a team who not only won the hearts of their own but almost every neutral watching on across Southeast Asia.

Singapore may feel aggrieved about how their ran ended as contentious decisions from the match official -- exacerbated by the lack of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) assistance -- will dominate the headlines.

Yet, the main takeaway should be the fact that, for a football team that has been in the doldrums for so long, Singapore once again gave its supporters players to cheer.

In goal, Hassan Sunny singlehandedly kept the Indonesian attack at bay, pulling off one miraculous save after another -- ten in total -- before he eventually became the third Singapore player to be sent off in the 119th minute for a last-man foul.

With the Lions out of substitutions, 22-year-old striker Ikhsan Fandi, more often seen grabbing the limelight with his goal-getting ways, offered to sacrifice himself by donning the gloves as a makeshift custodian.

Before that, Irfan Fandi -- Ikhsan's older brother -- had also seen red for a similarly desperate attempt to prevent the opposition from breaking through. Prior to his 67th-minute dismissal, Irfan had been colossal with the Lions having already lost fellow centre-back Safuwan Baharudin to a second yellow shortly before halftime.

From the time Singapore were down to nine men midway through the second half and adopting what almost seemed a 4-3-1 formation but still attempting to show attacking intent, Shahdan Sulaiman produced a majestic performance effectively as a one-man central midfield, even netting with a sublime freekick that initially had Singapore dreaming a 2-1 lead.

South Korean-born midfielder Song Ui-young, who only received Singapore citizenship in August, endeared himself to the Lions faithful with another all-action display, while 20-year-old Nur Adam Abdullah -- winning just his fourth cap - was fearless and showed why he could be a mainstay in the team over the next decade.

But perhaps the man who deserves the most credit, even though he constantly tries to deflect it onto his charges, is Singapore coach Tatsuma Yoshida.

Having taken over the reins without much fanfare in 2019, the Japanese's first major tournament with the team has seen the Lions -- both on the field and in the stands -- rediscover their roar.

Singapore may have to wait a while longer to regain their status as kings of Southeast Asian football. Regardless, they are heroes once again.