A familiar trek, and a new era

A familiar trek, and a new era
Singapore Selection vs Juventus.

SINGAPORE - The announcer rang out their names one by one, national heroes who did so much to turn the old stage into Singapore's magnificent football home, and fortress.

Dollah Kassim, Quah Kim Song, Samad Alapitchay, and inevitably, V Sundramoorthy and Fandi Ahmad, blared out of the brand new sound system, and the majority of the 27,388 crowd roared.

They remembered they were on sacred ground, and paid homage to Singapore's giants who made Kallang roar.

They were not there to watch the Lions of 2014, but saw world-class talent parade some imperious stuff at the country's brand new National Stadium, as Italian champions Juventus put the Singapore Selection side to the sword in a 5-0 win yesterday.

The lack of fight in the final 20 minutes by the local team would have annoyed some in the stands, national coach Bernd Stange would have been irritated at the final scoreline and players like Singapore captain Shahril Ishak and defender Safuwan Baharudin would not have been happy they were taken to school in many instances by Pirlo, Pogba and their teammates.

But, in the end, this was always only about Singapore football becoming comfortable taking its first steps at its new home.

So many fans had made the famous trek to the Kallang stadium in a previous era, and thousands followed in their footsteps yesterday to also be witnesses.

And the stadium looked the part.

There were complaints over the hybrid turf and its sandy areas, but dealing with grass, plastic and weaving, and sand and sun, rain, wind and roof is tricky business and with the pitch still young it will take time before the playing surface matures into a rich green.

It didn't stop Pirlo from pulling out a masterstroke from his full bag of tricks.

The Italian maestro anticipated a jump by the wall of the Singapore team and duly rolled his free-kick along the ground and into the corner of hapless Hassan Sunny's goal.


So cheeky, so confident, and so simple it was genius.

Pirlo's opening goal in the 16th minute set Juventus on their way and four more came at a regular clip, with the 35-year-old midfield star and World Cup winner arrowing in a penalty into the bottom right corner of Hassan's goal just before the break to carve his name onto the Man-of-the-Match trophy.

He was magnificent, young French star Pogba showed enough to suggest he could be the heir apparent, albeit of a different variety, with his powerful physique and pace to chase from box to box.

Stange's team were packed with Singapore internationals and three foreign stars from the S.League, they were good in parts, and against such quality opposition, that should give us cheer, even if Juventus were in pre-season mode.

And it will be even better if they come away from the game with eyes opened and minds refocused.

Crisper passing, quicker decision-making, better fitness, discipline and clinical finishing were all laid out at the stadium by the Italian visitors, mixing it with talent is the only way to the top and the local team's players and young dreamers in the stands will, hopefully, embrace Juventus' example.

More fans will come for Brazil's joust with Asia's kingpins Japan on Oct 14, and when Singapore take the field for the Suzuki Cup in November, maybe 55,000 will occupy the stadium for the first time.

The signs are good for the country's new football home, with its impressive dome and retractable roof, expansive walkways, corporate boxes, electronic advertising tier, two state-of-the-art scoreboards, individual seats, OCBC lounge, modern food and beverage kiosks and restrooms, and MRT station.

An hour before kick-off, a familiar queue of cars took shape at a number of entry points into the Sports Hub.

Fathers and sons, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends and whole groups of families were spotted walking a path that was initially carved out in 1973.

The first Kallang Roar of this era came alive just before kick-off at 6pm.

And the late Dollah and his band of giants would surely have approved.

World great Pirlo was an Italian ringmaster yesterday, when Singapore football returned home.


This article was first published on August 17, 2014.
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