Sunday, March 18, 2007

Grudge Match Between The Lions & The Tigers

Traditionally, it has always been a ‘grudge’ match between Singapore, the Lions and Malaysia, the Tigers, but the prolonged rain could put paid to a full turnout at our 55,000 capacity stadium.

After a streak of winless matches, football fever was at its peak again when our Lions fought their way to the 2nd leg of the semi-final of the biennale Asean Championship. The 1st leg was played at the 80,000 capacity Shah Alam Stadium in Kuala Lumpur which ended in a one-all draw.

Tickets were completely sold-out before the match day but I was lucky to land 2 complimentary tickets; much thanks to Tino’s good connection in the Sports Council where he works and for the first time, John who had always shown scant interest in football, agreed to join me.

After more than 3 decades, the grand dame will be making way for a multi-purpose state-of-the-art stadium later this year and ending the last match played here on a winning note mattered most to all.

The match had been scheduled to kick-off at 8 pm but many die-hard fans were already streaming in early. The stadium was almost deluged in a sea of RED for many of the Lions fans were donning red - me included.

At 7 pm, it was still drizzling and like many at the largely unsheltered stadium, we were praying for the rain to stop. Miraculously, the rain stopped when the teams were about to kick-off.

Loudest cheers were reserved for the Lions the moment they stepped onto the pitch, it was euphoria of sorts. Both sides started cautiously but the Tigers seemed to have a slight edge in the early minutes of play. The crowds were roaring, “We want goal! We want goal..!” Some twenty-five minute had passed, a moment lapse of concentration in the backline of the Lions allowed the lurking striker to hit one long from outside the penalty box. “GOAL”, shouted the small partisan Malaysian crowd in yellow that silenced the fans in red.

The Lions knew they must win; some 2 years ago they lost 4 goals to nil to the same team at this very stadium and pride must be restored. The second half did witness better play by our players and the crowds were edging them on. The famous Kallang Wave (original Mexican Wave) started ringing around the stadium sending much needed inspiration to our players. Alam Shah, our prolific striker suddenly shot down the flank to retrieve the loose ball and he then flipped it beyond the reach of the keeper into goal. We drew level this time. “Hooray, hooray…hooray!”, the crowd roared in unison.

The match ended in a draw and penalty shoot-out must decide the winner. 5 players from each side were chosen to take the spot-kick. We started first and the ball went in, 1 – 0 to us. The Tigers drew level next, much to my chagrin. All 5 of our players got theirs in and the scoreline now read 5 – 4 with one last player from the Tigers yet to kick. He took the ball and calmly placed it down. Our trusted custodian, Lionel Lewis was ever ready and for that moment, the entire stadium stood still. He lamely kicked the ball to the right; Lionel read it well and dived to the right. The ball was saved, we were in the final and history has been made.

Writer's Note: This is the writer's first assignment to his tutor in U.K. where he was asked to write a recent football match that he visited and to make the readers (in this instance, his tutor) feel as if she is also soaking in the atmosphere @ the stadium. Therefore, some parts were made up by the writer in order to spice-up his story for the benefits of his tutor (to score high marks, that is) but the hard fact still remains, SINGAPORE had beaten its arch rival, MALAYSIA in the last Asean Cup Championship and subsequently went on to win the cup for the 3rd time by narrowly pipping Thailand.