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Sazali Abdul Aziz
Friday, Jun 20, 2014

Sports

Football: Lions return home

The New Paper | Sazali Abdul Aziz | Friday, Jun 20, 2014

National footballers of the past, present and future gather at the new National Stadium to mark the Lions' return to their "den".

They last played there in January 2010, and after four years, the Lions finally returned to their spiritual home yesterday.

National players past, present and possibly future set foot on the turf at the new National Stadium, the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub, for the first time.

Among them were players from the 1970s and 1980s like Samad Allapitchay and R Suriamurthi, who used to strut their stuff regularly in front of 55,000 at the old stadium at Kallang.

The entire squad of the Courts Young Lions (Under-23) and Singapore Cubs (U19), as well as players from the national women's team and SportCares, a youth enrichment programme initiated by the national agency Sport Singapore, were also present.

They took in the grand view of the new stadium from pitch side, snapped photos, and even kicked a football on the turf.

When the stadium's giant screen played a video montage of the national team's 2012 Suzuki Cup triumph in Bangkok, Khairul Amri wore a smile, as memories of the Lions' victory flooded his mind.

"If only that Suzuki Cup win in 2012 were here at home," said the LionsXII star, almost ruefully.

"I cannot imagine what it'll be like when this place is full.

"I know what it's like to win the Suzuki Cup in front of a full house at the old National Stadium, like we did in 2004 and 2006.

"But the moment I set foot here, it's like a whole different place."

Amri will probably get a chance to step out in front of a full house at the new stadium when a Singapore Selection team host Italian giants Juventus in an exhibition match on Aug 14.

But Amri knows there is a difference between playing an exhibition match, and a competitive fixture, like the ones the Lions will be involved in when the biennial Suzuki Cup rolls on in November.

With champions Singapore co-hosting this year's edition, the 29-year-old striker says the team have no excuses but to do well in front of a home crowd.

FULL CROWD

"We've seen in 2004 and 2007 that it'll always be a full crowd when the team gets to the semi-final," he said.

"So for us, it's simple. If we want the fans to come to the new National Stadium, that's what we have to do."

National coach Bernd Stange admits the heat is already on his Lions to defend their title at their Kallang home.

Said the German: "It's a big responsibility for all of us to fill the stadium. I know all about Kallang and the tradition it holds for Singaporeans, and we have to find a way to bring the Kallang Roar back.

"When a stadium such as this is full, it's almost like having one or two more players for the home team, and that's what we want.

"That's what we call home advantage and that's why teams that host tournaments usually go further, and sometimes win.

"Personally, it'll be a proud moment for me to lead the team out for the Suzuki Cup here, and I am looking forward to it."

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) president Zainudin Nordin is confident Singaporeans will show their support by filling up the new National Stadium.

He said: "That was the same question asked in the 1970s (when the original stadium was opened) too, right?

"We must have the confidence. If we believe we can re-ignite the fire, it can happen.

"If we can do well and perform at the Suzuki Cup, the support and fervour will be there."


This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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