Merlion Cup 2019: 5 talking points as Singapore lift the title after hard-fought 1-0 win over Thailand U-23s

Singapore Merlion Cup

Hosts Singapore U-23 national team defeated Thailand U-23s in a nervy final to win the rebooted Merlion Cup 2019 title at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore on Sunday.

Meanwhile in the third-place play-off held earlier in the day, there was a comfortable 5-0 win for Indra Sjafri’s Indonesia U-23s over a hapless Philippines side who finished the tournament goalless.

Here, FOX Sports Asia takes a look at the five major talking points from the final day of the tournament…

1) Garuda Muda salvage some pride

There was a lot riding for Indonesia when they faced Thailand in the opener of the Merlion Cup. After all, it was a chance for them to prove that February’s 2-1 win over the Changusek in the final of the AFF U-22 Championship 2019 wasn’t a fluke. However, it was a reversal of the result this time at the Jalan Besar Stadium as Thailand progressed to the final with a 2-1 win. And that is why the thumping of Philippines means some pride salvaged for Garuda Muda. The Indonesian fans can also cheer for Muhammad Rafli who was pretty impressive with his movement and finishing abilities scoring a hattrick to down the Azkals.

2) Grim reading for SEA Games hosts Azkals

The Philippines are scheduled to host the Southeast Asian Games 2019 from November 30 to December 10 later this year and it will be their U-23 that will represent the country in the men’s football competition at the Games. However, the Merlion Cup 2019 has shown that the young Azkals are some way off from competing against their ASEAN peers. The 2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers held earlier this year saw them lose against China PR 8-0, Malaysia 3-0 and even Laos 3-2! And the Merlion Cup was further proof that they could be in for some embarrassing results on their home soil in December if they cannot improve rapidly.

3) Gama’s Thailand swansong ends in despair

The Merlion Cup final was most likely to be coach Alexandre Gama’s final game in charge of the Thailand U-23 side. Gama is wanted by Thai League giants Muangthong United and talks are set to take place between the Brazilian coach and Football Association of Thailand (FAT) once he returns from the Merlion Cup. However, it is expected that Gama will leave as FAT have already confirmed they are searching for replacements. However, Gama could not finish his stint on a high as Singapore snatched a 1-0 win over the Thais. With the coach’s departure coming just months before the important SEA Games, FAT will need to move quickly to appoint a new gaffer for these talented youngsters.

4) Ikhsan impresses for Young Lions

Ikhsan Fandi wasn’t called up to the Singapore senior national team for their friendlies against Solomon Islands and Myanmar by new head coach Tatsuma Yoshida due to his U-23 commitments. But the 20-year-old has proved during the two games in the tournament that he belongs to a level above the U-23s. The young striker had scored one of the three goals in Singapore’s 3-0 rout of Philippines in the opener and was once again the difference between the Lions and War Elephants in the final. Ikhsan recovered from a slip and showed excellent composure to stick the ball into the back of the net from distance in the 36th minute which remained the goal that won his side the Merlion Cup 2019.

5) Merlion Cup win a boost for Singapore

The Merlion Cup result will come as a huge boost for Singapore U-23 ahead of the SEA Games. Thailand did miss a few key players due to senior team duty at the King’s Cup 2019, but the Young Lions still had a huge task in front of them to defeat the Changsuek who were the favourites for the title and had got the better of a strong Indonesia side in the opener. Coach Fandi Ahmad can be pleased with the performances of several of his young players and will be hoping to base future successes on this Merlion Cup triumph.

(Photos courtesy: Football Association of Thailand & Football Association of Singapore)