It was a moment that I will never forget. Singapore football has had its fair share of glorious moments over the years, but that was the first one I witnessed live with my own eyes albeit through live television. As a young boy not even into his teens, I remember sitting on the sofa watching intently as the second leg of the 2007 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship final played out in Bangkok. The match was finely poised, with the aggregate score at 2-2 after Thailand had levelled the match through a 50th-minute strike from Pipat Thonkanya. With extra-time looming, Singapore football desperately needed a hero, someone who could conjure up a moment of magic and silence the boisterous home crowd.
And it was none other than the then 21-year-old mercurial forward by the name of Khairul Amri who stepped up that night. Receiving the ball outside the penalty area, there seemed to be no apparent danger as the Thais looked to have covered the gaps in the defence. But when the player on the ball was Amri, anything was possible. After controlling the ball from a pass, he charged with great intent into the Thai penalty area. Just when the Thai defence looked to have covered all angles, Amri unleashed a venom of a shot. The ball swerved and subsequently bulged the back of the net, leaving the Thai defenders and goalkeeper shell-shocked. They simply could not believe what had just transpired before their very eyes. The stadium, which was packed with Thai supporters, fell silent. Back home in Singapore, I was cheering and jumping around like a delirious fool, and the same euphoric scenes were probably happening in numerous households across the country. It was the match-winner, and Singapore was crowned the best in South-east Asia once again.
In an era where Singapore football has struggled to produce decent international class strikers, Amri was the one bright shining light and arguably the Republic’s best forward for the past decade.
And this was just one of the many moments that the 34-year-old Amri has produced in his glittery 15-year international career for the Singapore Lions. Making a total of 132 international appearances and contributing 32 goals along the way, he was always a nightmare for any opposition whenever he donned the Lions jersey. Who can forget his goal in the final of the 2004 AFF Championship against Indonesia? Or his stunning strike against Thailand in the final of the 2012 edition? Or his brilliant free-kick against eventual Asian champions Iraq in the Asian Cup qualifiers in 2006? He was the man for the big occasion, often stepping up when the chips were down to lift the Singapore team. In an era where Singapore football has struggled to produce decent international class strikers, Amri was the one bright shining light and arguably the Republic’s best forward for the past decade.
It speaks volumes of Amri’s qualities that at the age of 34 when most footballers would already be winding down their careers, he was still considered a huge part of the new national coach Tatsuma Yoshida’s plans until his social media announcement to retire from national duties yesterday. He was many things: a goal-scorer, creator, free-kick specialist, and most importantly, a down-to-earth footballer who always gave his all for the country. There are talks ongoing from the Football Association of Singapore to organise a testimonial farewell game for Amri, and rightly so. In an era where most Singaporeans tend to be obsessed with the European game, idolising world football stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, it is similarly important not to forget the contributions of one of our own. For all his achievements, Amri certainly deserves to join the likes of Fandi Ahmad and V. Sundramoorthy, going down in Singapore football history as one of our true modern greats.
As a schoolboy, he was once too poor to afford a pair of boots and it has certainly been Singapore football’s gain that he did not end up walking away from the sport. Looking back on Amri’s storied international career and admiring his numerous contributions to the sport, there is certainly a great sense of loss among the local football fraternity and wider community.
While the emergence of promising young strikers in recent years such as Ikhsan Fandi and Zikos Chua could mean that an able replacement upfront for the national team is very much within sight, one thing is for sure: we will never have another like Khairul Amri.
Photos courtesy of Simon Godfrey.