Watching Lions and Tigers at play…
The last time I watched the Malaysia cup final was in 1991, when we visited Malaysia Uni, and decided to watch Kedah versus Singapore at the Merdeka stadium. It was a memorable experience, with the deafening roar, the palpable passion and finally the disappointment, when we were defeated 1-3. It didn't help that a friend led me to sit amongst the Kedah fans...
I missed the earlier tie when Singapore beat Malaysia 5-3 and by all accounts that was a sensational tie. So when I found out that it was to be telecast, and I have an evening that wasn’t bogged down by work, so I grabbed a soft drink, some chips and turned on the telly.
Now after watching years of poor soccer, lack of motivation and the will to run, I wasn’t expecting much for this match. Bribes, boring S-league matches and a copious use of foreign but second rate talent talent has also dilated my interest in this match.
However, it got off to a good start, with plenty of hard running and industry by our Lions, and this coupled with some tentative playing by the Tigers, made us look a lot better than we really were. The pitch was also lumpy, with more in common with the moon surface than a playing field.
That also meant more injuries, and twisted ankles with everyone running hard to get the ball, and aggressive tackles flying in all over. No one was giving any quarter and players were also making the most of it, twisting and moaning on the pitch, with performances equally the best porn stars…
The Lions were rewarded with four yellow cards for their fierce tackling, although the Malaysians also had a man sent off for two bookable offences. Everyone knew the importance of this match, and the Tigers knew that they had to overturn a two goal deficit.
We got off to a good start, creating plenty of chances, but we found a wall of a man in their defence….
The main person that stood between us and Lion’s victory was the Malaysian custodian, Khairul, who was a fearsome creature with his spike hair combed back and upwards, and a glare that helped to make him look much bigger than his 5 foot 7 frame could.
He leapt, dived, punched and jumped to turn away so many strikes, that it was looking like a goalless night for Singapore. This man did his darnest best to prevent us from scoring…
He was my man of the match, and did not deserve to be on the losing side. We shot at him from close range, twice, and then swerved a wonderful curler of a free kick and he tipped it over with a tremendous leap. He was determined to help the Tigers overcome the deficit singlehanded.
Our finishing by the rather rotund striker imported from PRC, was not incisive, and with the Malaysian custodian in fine form, we were headed for a goalless halftime score line. This was not a bad thing, since all we had to do was to hang onto a 5-3 victory from the first encounter. And since we were playing in a 90 000 strong vociferous crowd, who were clearly rooting for their home team.
The Tigers started the second half far more aggressively, and their probing was rewarded when everyone froze for a moment, when a foul seemed to have occurred, the Tigers reacted the quickest, and they set their deadliest striker free and he does not make mistakes with such gifts. A beautiful cross goal effort, and our goalie had no chance.
This made the whole stadium come alive and even louder than before, as the Malaysian fans screamed, yelled and cheered their players to get one more and kick the “reviled” Singaporeans out of the world cup.
But sometimes strange things happen, and in a completely surprising moment, against the flwo of the game, a ball was punted up to Aleksander Duric, our tall 40 year old striker, and he headed down perfectly into the path of our PRC import, and he calmly slotted the ball past the despairing right hand of the Malaysian keeper.
The entire stadium fell silent, and you can see multitudes of dropped jaws and faces of anguish. The small Singaporean crowd of 600 then came to life, and they knew at 73 minutes into the game, this was a pivotal moment. Even though it was theoretically possibly to salvage and come back, the Malaysians had a tall order, and the complexion was totally different from a goal down. Now they were back to square one, and time was not on their hands.
But now fatigue was setting in on both sides, and in particular our strike force looked weary, and some of our team members were reduced to walking pace. This does not bode well for future matches where we are asked to fight to the end.
The lack of match fitness showed, and we almost finished them off later on but again, the Malaysian custodian was ever alert. Between him and their striker, they worked tirelessly to try and win the fight back.
We had our own heroes too, with Harun working like a young Tigana to chase down every ball, and maintain possession in midfield. Kudos too, to our young keeper, who did well and kept his nerves, earning his spurs deservedly.
As the minutes wore down, there was a sense of futility as the Tigers fought on valiantly, but they wore the look of a team who knew they were going down. The fans began leaving, others became frustrated and stared menacingly at the small band of Singapore fans who were singing and waving triumphantly.
I turned off the set at the final whistle, with a certain sense of satisfaction, firstly for not wasting time watching a poor skilled match, secondly for bearing witness to a valiant fight by our Lions, and finally grateful that I could relive some of the excitement I felt in the old days watching the Malaysia Cup, and our victory over Pahang which served to avenge our defeat at the hands of Kedah in KL the year before.
Given Singapore’s penchant for buying instead of developing talent, we should offer citizenship and buy the Malaysian striker and definitely their goalie!