Causeway derby soon

SINGAPORE - After the disappointment that a Singapore-Malaysia match will not inaugurate the new National Stadium, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin has promised that a Causeway derby between the two neighbours "will happen".

"And it will happen before the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup," he added, in reference to the regional tournament, co-hosted by Singapore and Vietnam, which kicks off in November.

"We're just trying to see what is the most suitable date."

Originally scheduled for Aug 8, the fixture was postponed last month when the FAS decided that it would "need more time to prepare for the event... given the high turnout expected".

The Aug 16 visit of Italian champions Juventus to face a Singapore Selection side will be the first football match to be played at the 55,000-seat stadium instead.

Mr Zainudin, who is an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, added that hosting events such as the Juventus and Malaysia friendlies, as well as the AFF Cup, will serve to revive the Kallang Roar.

"Our strategy is to have a phasing in period, with smaller eventsto build up the momentum," he said. "If there are opportunities to ignite the spark, we will do it."

He was speaking yesterday at the stadium, where 40 footballers - comprising players from the LionsXII, Courts Young Lions, National Football Academy Under-19s, national women's teamand Sport Singapore's SportCares foundation - took to the pitch for the first time.

"It was important to let our Lions be the first to experience the pitch because this is their home," said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Just stepping onto the new turf proved to be an emotional occasion for Malek Awab, a midfielder from Singapore's Malaysia Cup and league double-winning side of 1994.

"It's incredible," he gushed. "Words cannot describe it." With 118 international caps to his name, the 53-year-old fondly recalled playing in front of 55,000 fans at the old stadium and how seeing the capacity crowd "made us tell ourselves that we cannot fail them".

"I hope this new stadium can generate the same atmosphere," Malek said.

Defender Jeffrey Lightfoot, a member of the NFA U-19s, added: "It's my dream to create memories of my own on the football pitch - to do it on this one would be great."

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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