S'pore Futsal team Anfield runners-up

S'pore Futsal team Anfield runners-up
Rooban Kanth (left), captain of Singapore’s Dorset Boys, and team-mate Naresh Govinadhan pursuing a Vietnam player in the final of the Standard Chartered Trophy international tournament at Anfield on Tuesday.

They came carefree and eager to enjoy their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play futsal on Liverpool's famous Anfield pitch.

But the Dorset Boys, representing Singapore in the 14-team Standard Chartered Trophy international futsal tournament, surprised even themselves when they went all the way to finish runners-up behind Vietnam on Tuesday.

"We were joking after the final that, just like Liverpool which unexpectedly came in second in the Premier League season, we also did the same," said team captain Rooban Kanth, 26.

He did acknowledge that this runners-up result eclipses most of the local tournaments that his Dorset Boys team have won since their formation in 2006.

Named after the road beside the futsal court where they play up to three times a week, they emerged from 60 other teams on March 1 to win the Singapore StanChart Trophy tournament and earn this unique chance to play at Anfield.

It was the first time the Singapore event had welcomed members of the public to take part in the qualifying process.

The teams were chosen from a pre-tournament contest organised by The Straits Times.

In the first two editions, only StanChart staff and corporate clients were invited to take part.

Before Tuesday's competition, the Dorset Boys also got to watch Liverpool's final home game of the EPL season against Newcastle last Sunday. On Monday, they even got to train at the Reds' academy at the Kirkby suburbs.

"It really was a dream experience, even though none of us are Liverpool fans," said Kanth, a Manchester United supporter.

"We were trained by Liverpool youth academy coaches and even had (ex-Liverpool stars) John Barnes and Robbie Fowler give us tips to play better futsal."

Their rivals for the StanChart Trophy international tournament were all amateur-level players but the Dorset Boys refused to treat them as pushovers.

This is because the qualifying tournaments took place across 14 StanChart global markets, with over 1,200 teams. In Malaysia alone, 644 teams took part.

Nevertheless, most of the players were awestruck by this opportunity to play in Anfield.

They wore wide grins as they walked onto the pitch with the famous Reds anthem, You'll Never Walk Alone, blaring through the stadium speakers. In between matches, they were seen snapping photos beside the pitch.

The Dorset Boys made it through a tough opening group of seven teams, reaching the semi-finals after four wins (3-0 over The Gambia, 3-0 over Kenya, 2-1 over South Korea, and 1-0 over a team from the Middle East and North Africa region), a draw (2-2 with Nigeria) and just one loss (0-1 to defending champions Thailand).

In the semi-finals, they drew 1-1 with Hong Kong before prevailing in a sudden-death penalty shootout.

But they found a well-drilled Vietnam side too tough, losing 0-1 in the final to miss out on the StanChart Trophy.

Nevertheless, Kanth said: "When we first formed this futsal team, we never expected to even play overseas.

"To come to play at Anfield and make friends with futsal players from all over the world is definitely an experience we will not forget any time."

This article was published on May 15 in The Straits Times.

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