Lion's home worry

Lion's home worry
Sunlight peeking through the thin retractable dome of the new National Stadium.

The ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup is slightly over six weeks away.

All eyes will be on national coach Bernd Stange and his Lions to see if they can retain the regional crown they won two years ago in Bangkok, this time on home soil at the spanking new National Stadium at the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub.

But, in a stunning development, The New Paper has learnt that holding matches at the National Stadium venue could be in jeopardy.

The reason?

A Jay Chou concert and an exhibition rugby game.

The New Paper understands that the AFF has strict guidelines on the usage of venues for the Suzuki Cup before the tournament, insisting stadiums should not be used for any other matches or events a minimum of 15 working days prior to the first match at the stadium.

Singapore and Vietnam are co-hosts of the Suzuki Cup.

The Lions have been drawn in Group B, alongside Thailand, Malaysia and the team that win the qualifying tournament - Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Timor Leste - while Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and the runners-up from the qualifiers will battle it out in Group A.

All Group B games have been scheduled at the National Stadium (except for one, to ensure the final two matches of the group kick off at the same time) and the Lions play their first match on Nov 23.

CLASH OF DATES

This means the Nov 8 date for Taiwanese Mandopop king Chou's "Opus 2 Jay 2014 World Tour" concert and the Nov 15 date for an exhibition rugby match between the Maori All Blacks and Asia Pacific Dragons (a Singapore-based invitational side comprising Asian and Polynesian players) at the National Stadium contravene the AFF regulation.

Acknowledging the issue, AFF general secretary Datuk Azzudin Ahmad told TNP yesterday: "We are addressing the issue and will come to a conclusion by Oct 14.

"Whether (the hosting rights change hands) is not for me to decide, it's for the AFF committee who will sit down at discuss this matter.

"But we won't close one eye... It's an undertaking by all host countries, not just Singapore, to make sure the tournament venues are ready for the competition."

In response to queries, a Sports Hub spokesman said: "SportsHub Pte Ltd is working closely with FAS and AFF to resolve any potential issues that may arise."

If there is a compromise, then it is believed the Jay Chou concert would go on while the rugby match will be postponed.

The worst case scenario is for matches to be played at the 7,500-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium.

The state of the pitch at the National Stadium is the concern.

The Desso pitch has hardly bedded in and much of the playing surface for the Juventus friendly with the Singapore Selection on Aug 16 was sand, leading to many complaints from fans.

Brazil play Japan in a glamour friendly there on Tuesday and, with the Jay Chou concert and the rugby match, there is concern the pitch will not be able to hold up for a football tournament just a little over a week later.

When contacted yesterday, the Football Association of Singapore said that "it will work closely with all stakeholders while awaiting the AFF's decision and will issue a statement at an appropriate time."

Stange, who took over the reins of Singapore's national team in May last year, is hopeful that there will be a compromise.

Speaking to TNP before the national team left for a week-long trip to Hong Kong for two international friendlies, the 66-year-old German said: "I think they will make sure it happens (at the National Stadium).

"There are contracts involved... But I take it as it is.

"I cannot change what will be decided. And if I can't, I'm a man, I have to face the challenge."

UNHAPPY

The former Hertha Berlin coach also expressed his frustration that his team have not been able to train regularly at the National Stadium.

Said Stange: "It seems like we cannot practise there before the Suzuki Cup. Japan and Brazil can practise there, we cannot.

"But... I'm happy to have the stadium, a big home crowd, and my dream is that the stadium can take our boys to the next level."


This article was first published on Oct 9, 2014.
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