Wednesday, June 04, 2008


4th June 2008, Wednesday

お久しぶり.... It means "it's been a while" in Japanese...
On Monday evening, it surely had been a long while a good 13 years I supposed since I last stepped into the Kallang National Stadium to catch a live football match featuring our National team.
Think it was 4-teams invitational tournament back in 1995 or something which I had stayed too long for the match, resulting in nearly missing our a family roadtrip...surely threw my parents out of pique back then.

Our success in the 2 most recent ASEAN Cup didn't even triggered that dying urge to head down the stadium to cheer on our home team....
But Raddy Avramovic's contribution to the state of our national team was evident to see from the ridicule and pain of being mauled at home by our neighbours, Malaysia to becoming a powerhouse in our region and now stood head to head with footballing giants in Asia with the likes of Saudi Arabia and Monday's opponents, Uzbekistan in the 3rd Round of the 2010 World Cup Qualifying, a zenith in our footballing history...neither the great Malaysia Cup all conquering team of the late 1970s or mid 1990s had ever got us that far.

After losing 0-2 away at Riyadh to the Saudis, we felt it was a game we should had tried to draw against a surprisingly lackluster host. However experience saw them through.
When we soundly beat Lebanon at home in March and the Uzbeks squashed the Saudis in Tahskent, suddenly it was game on and the possibility to making it into the next round didn't seem so remote.

Before Raddy and the media started generating some interest in our otherwise aloof nation consist of cycnical and fair weather fans who always felt the Lions are a bunch of jokers with their inconsistent performances to flood the stadium, I had made up my mind to watch it live and it was an event I had put it in my calendar, making me looking forward to during my ICT.

After a dry and suffocatingly-hot spell, the sky opened up over the past weeks, dousing the island in torrential rain and we thought Monday would be a soggy day as well...making the pitch unplayable and viewing pleasure on the gallery decimated.
Fortunately the weather was at it's very best that evening when I left from work with fellow colleagues, HB and XY to Kallang. I was the catalyst to generate HB, a reasonable footballing fan in his own right and had caught live matches during the ASEAN Cup run.
Meanwhile his lass, XY had never seen a live football match in Kallang as she was much later in the M Cup era; and was rather skeptical about the immense mood you'll experience there.

Foo was another who had been anticipating this match.
Despite etched in the misery of his ICT, he tried to sneak out as early as he could and after we rendezvous at the East Gate after I purchased the remaining tickets, the 4 of us, all clad in tops either in bright red or remotely close to red, we made out way into the gallery where at 7pm, was barely full in the center portion.
Around 5000 die hards made their way on a wet Wednesday night to catch the Lions lost meekly to a Bahrain side who were in the midst of good form.
But on Monday, slightly 10 minutes into the game, we get to see the central region of the gallery and almost the entire grandstand were filled with a final toll of 28,500 supporters were there to catch the game.
It still pales in comparison to the hey days of Malaysian Cup but the feeling was still the same.

As we stood up and sang our national anthem which I was slightly embarrassed to say I had forgotten a huge chunk of the lyrics, it is perhaps one of the rare moment of patriotism running through the blood of us Gen Y or the IT age generation.
Surrounding us were group of friends barely more than 25 years or age (or at least the manner they behaved or spoken do not reflect a certain age of maturity), but we all had the common support for the Lions.

The game was barely 10 minutes long when the visitors went one up...
The goal was scored from a source which we give our immobile defenders a torrid time for the entire 1st half and early stages of the 2nd...from their wings Victor Karpenko and Server Djeparov were speedy and quick to lose any markers in the form of Noh Rahman and Daniel Bennett.
I think Raddy and the Lions were too focused on key dangerman, Maksim Shatskikh and the possibility of the high balls.
In the actual match, Uzbekistan showed that they are equally dangerous with their tricky runs, precise passing and high accuracy of shots.
We would actually be leading if Aleksandar Duric had managed to score from a one-on-one with Uzbek's keeper, Ignativ Nesterov; but his aged muscles or perhaps the long season so far might had effect on the final outcome when he dribbled out of his opportunity.
But our valiant Lions did equalized from a nice build-up which Duric poached on a loose ball after Bennett crashed the woodworks with a venomous shot from 30 yards out.

The jubilation and euphoria of our team scoring was incredible as everyone jumped up to their feet, cheering relentlessly; some even threw self-made confetti.

However our joy was short-lived when Uzbekistan was back in front and at this point we wondered how reliable was the skipper of the day, custodian Lionel Lewis who seems daunted by the task at hand and his defenders were not helping him out with some woeful defending in front of him.
Khairul Amri, the brightest prospect in local football since Indra Shadan was placed on the left wing supporting big man Duric up front. There had been calls for him to go abroad to further his footballing education and he showed his promise as his trickery drew a blatant foul from the Uzbek's defense; the referee from UAE duly rewarded the home team a penalty.
The fans including myself were jumping for joy for the 2nd time though the penalty was still not converted...some of the crowd immediately initiated the crowd to quiet down for penalty kick taker, Mustafic Fahrrudin to step up on the spot...He duly converted and the fanfare ensued...

Once again the immense cheering including the long-lost Kallang Wave was once again interrupted by a third Uzbek goal as one Uzbek forward sprinted at full speed towards goal and his goal-bound shot was merely stopped from crossing the line by Noh who should had produced a more convincing clearance; but Server Djeparov was on hand to thump in this wonderful chance to put his team back in front again.
The crowd was incensed as all the good work by the attack was deemed useless when the defense kept leaking goals like school boys.
Foo was sweating while my heart was pounding vociferously with the adrenaline rush; it had been such a wonderful game for neutral fan with both teams so willing to attack.
Foo mentioned that if we held them to a slender lead, we would have chance for a fightback in the 2nd interval but it was not meant to be.
In quick succession, Uzbek scored another 2 including one directly from the corner to add salt to our wounds to the dismay of we the crestfallen fans.

Going to the break with a 2-5 score was a hard pill for any home team but it was quite evident we weren't in the same league as Uzbekistan especially with all the defensive woes.

In the 2nd half, Raddy put up Qui Li, another foreign talent who just recently acquired his citizenship.
He was a rather burly attacker who I supposed was to add some physical presence which Duric failed for the night. However he is also taking all the flaks from skeptical fans of what he can really contribute.
For a good 20 minutes his game was mere ball watching and chasing whatever loose ball he could scrape from a water-tight Uzbek defense.
Meanwhile the Uzbekistan showed their aerial prowess with a headed goal from a corner to make the score 6-2, all hopes surely seemed to be lost by now.
Some disenchanted fans started to cheer on Uzbekistan to score 10 goals, others bemoaning what Lionel Lewis was doing while I find entertainment in the ball boy or the Red Cross staff who were kept busy with constant simulation of Uzbek players from slight nudge to waste time.

Then a moment for Qiu Li to prove his worth when he shoot a sweet shot with his left foot which beat the keeper but not the crossbar. And out of nowhere, John Wilkinson whom I felt was non existent in every game I have seen him played so far scored the 3rd goal.
Once again we bounced for joy...pretty hard to imagine that we cheered 3 goals from Singapore yet we ended as the losing side.

Dinamo Kiev marksman, Maksim then showed why he is one of the top striker in Asia when he glided explicitly past our slow centerbacks and chip a delicate shot past Lionel late on in the game after our keeper had made a couple of nice saves.

This led to the final score of 7:3 but kudos to our team, we were still fighting, trying to cut the deficit but everyone knew Uzbekistan was unlikely to ship another goal.

Some fair weather fans left 10 minutes before the game ended, disgusted by the display..Doubt we would see them in the next game..
We stayed behind to cheer what remains of the team for their effort...

Overall the feeling of watching the match in the stadium was one money can hardly buy.
While local media or anyone in the heartlands were hurling scathing remarks about the side, I still felt pride of my team who now has a bleak qualifying campaign as they flew to Tashkent for the return game on Saturday.
Saudi won i their home game against Lebanon and Uzbekistan will want to finish up the qualifying to the next round at home.
Raddy could only wish we are able to keep the Uzbek at bay away and pip 2 wins in the later stages....

I will certainly be there to witness a monumental victory over Saudi Arabia come 14th June; this team do look capable of doing so...let's hope the rest of the 28K on Monday would not ditch them as well on the curtain-closer for Kallang Stadium

Japanese word of the day: アドレナリン (Adrenaline) You could really feel the rush in that first 30 minutes of the game



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