SINGAPORE — It was just another game, they said. The result did not matter, it is an opportunity to experiment, a friendly.
Even if there were any who were convinced by words thrown out by both camps ahead of the Causeway Challenge, there are none after Friday night.
Singapore came back from the dead to draw 2—2 with old rivals Malaysia in a match that saw crunching tackles, elbows thrown and words exchanged — and a couple of spectacular goals.
The evening that started with a Malaysian fans clashing with their Singapore counterparts in an all—out brawl outside the stadium, ended with Malaysian reserve goalkeeper Farizal Malias having to be pulled away from the fourth official — on two occasions.
"The hype is there despite this being a friendly... we knew it was going to be a physical and tough match, and it was. We started slow, absorbed everything and played well in between —— until the last five minutes," said Malaysia coach K Rajagobal.
"We should be satisfied with the result, but we deserved to win."
Azamuddin Akil scored in the 43rd minute after an exquisite Norshahrul Idlan Talaha dummy left him inside the six—yard box with only the goalkeeper to beat.
And Malaysia looked like running away with the match just 15 minutes after the break, when skipper Safiq Rahim left Izwan Mahbud rooted to the spot with a well—struck freekick.
But Singapore launched a comeback, with a little help from Hong Kong referee Ng Kai Lam. He awarded a hotly disputed indirect freekick inside the box, after Qiu Li saw his 84th minute penalty saved, an offer Shahdan Sulaiman accepted, his shot finding the top corner.
Qiu Li made amends for that penalty miss in stoppage time with a training ground routine. His cracking drive off a Shahdan freekick brought the 5,900 at Jalan Besar to their feet, and sent Malaysian tempers flaring.
"I’m happy but we can be better. We dominated the first period and should have scored a few goals," said Radojko Avramovic.
"I’ve no problem whatever the result, I just wanted to look at the quality that we have. With a bit of exposure some players will come through."
Singapore started the match with an experimental team without the likes of Fahrudin Mustafic, Qiu Li, Shi Jiayi and Daniel Bennett, but the team made entirely up of LionsXII players displayed potential for the future.
But with players missing the return leg due to National Service commitments, it will be a different Singapore side that starts at the Shah Alam Stadium on Tuesday.
And Malaysia are promising another fiery affair.
Said Rajagobal: "I don’t have to motivate my players any more, this result motivates them already."