Lion-hearted fans crucial

Lion-hearted fans crucial

Cue the goosebumps. On Sunday at the National Stadium, Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi will both do something they have never done before.

While the Kallang area is synonymous with the Lions for older fans, the pair have never played there for their country before.

Ahead of Singapore's ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup Group B opener against Thailand this weekend, both of them - tipped to be part of coach Bernd Stange's first team after playing in the Lions' previous three friendly matches - are raring to play in front of what could be a bumper crowd.

According to the Football Association of Singapore, half of the tickets for the match at the 55,000-seat stadium had been snapped up as of yesterday.

For the Singapore-Myanmar game, 42 per cent of the tickets have already been sold, while 60 per cent have been taken for the Singapore-Malaysia encounter.

"To play for Singapore in front of huge crowds while defending our AFF Cup crown is a dream come true," said Faris, 22, who has 10 caps.

"As a footballer, it's frustrating to play a good game, turn around and realise no one witnessed it... (so) I'm looking forward to playing in front of a bigger crowd.

"With our fans behind us, they will give us the extra strength to fight for every ball from start to finish."

Added Sahil, 23, who also has 10 caps: "It'll be my first time playing in the AFF Cup so I'm a bit nervous - what more against a team like Thailand.

"But at the same time, I'm excited about seeing our own fans supporting us at the stadium and to show them what we can do."

Three-time AFF Cup winner Aide Iskandar, currently the assistant coach of the team, also referred to the positive effect of a packed National Stadium.

"In the 2004 AFF Cup semi-finals, we were losing 0-2 at home to Myanmar - 4-5 on aggregate - in the second leg but the fans never stopped cheering us on," said Aide, 39.

"That motivated us to push ourselves further and we ended up winning it in extra time to go to the final."

While the Kallang Roar can prove inspirational, it could also turn into a traumatic experience for the Lions if things do not go well.

At the 2002 AFF Cup which Singapore co-hosted, the Republic were thumped 4-0 in the opening game by arch-rivals Malaysia, incurring the wrath of the 40,000-strong crowd who jeered them for a lacklustre performance.

If that scenario repeats itself against Thailand, fans may vote long-term with their feet for subsequent games, leaving the Lions to play inside a half-empty stadium.

While Faris acknowledges that results are paramount, he believes that is not the sole reason behind the supporters' decision to back their team at the stadium.

"The majority of our supporters can tell whether we gave our best, and continue to support us from the stands," said Faris.

"We're not thinking about what happens after the Thailand game now; rather, we're just focused on giving our best because good performances, irrespective of the result, will still draw fans to the stadium."

Added Aide: "This is part and parcel of football and the players will have to learn to deal with it if that happens.

"During my time, I'd tell the boys to use the negativity in the stadium as a challenge to prove a lot of people wrong and (this psychology) can do wonders.

"After 2002, nobody gave us a chance in the next edition in 2004 but we were determined to prove them wrong, and ended up winning the title, so it can be a good thing."

This article was first published on Nov 20, 2014.
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