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Lions should kick off first hub game

The Straits Times | Chua Siang Yee | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Juventus' players celebrate with the trophy from a bus in piazza Castello in Turin after winning the 'Scudetto' on May 18, 2014, the last day of the Italian Serie A football championship.

SINGAPORE - While question marks surround the new date of the postponed Singapore v Malaysia clash at the new National Stadium, there is at least little doubt about what players and fans would like to see in the venue's football opener.

Regardless of opposition, they are unequivocal in their preference for Singapore's national team to kick off the first football match at the showpiece stadium of the new Singapore Sports Hub.

Said Singapore midfielder and LionsXII captain Isa Halim: "Ideally you would want the national team to play the opening match in the new stadium. For us players, we just want to kick off with a win, and feel the pride of playing at our new home."

His LionsXII team-mate, striker Sufian Anuar, added: "It's the opening match of our national stadium, there will most likely be a great crowd. So it is more meaningful if the locals get to play for their country on home soil."

The eagerly-anticipated clash between Singapore and Malaysia was originally scheduled for Aug 8 at the 55,000-seat National Stadium - eight days before the next scheduled football match, a friendly between Italian Serie A champions Juventus and a Singapore Selection side.

With that Aug 16 tie increasingly likely to be the opening football match, most are hoping that the Lions will be allowed to spar against the Italian giants, instead of a selection side which could include foreign players from the Great Eastern-Yeo's S-League.

Technician Qamarul Zaman, 35, said: "I have nothing against the foreign players, but I hope it won't be like the Singapore Selection side against Atletico Madrid last year.

"We should give local players a chance to play top-class teams. It will be useful for the Singapore head coach to track the progress of the team."

Last year, a Singapore Selection side featuring S-League foreign stars Sirina Camara, Monsef Zerka and Jozef Kaplan lost 0-2 to Atletico Madrid in a friendly at Jalan Besar Stadium.

While a friendly against a top European side can hardly compare with the intensity of a Singapore-Malaysia clash, fans and players are nevertheless eager to see how the Lions stack up against the 30-time Italian champions, who boast the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Carlos Tevez among their squad.

Singapore and LionsXII midfielder Zulfahmi Arifin said: "It's a rare opportunity to face these world-class players, and a good chance for the young players like Shahfiq Ghani, Sahil Suhaimi and myself to learn from them. "It will also be good preparation for the Suzuki Cup."

The ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup is set to take place at the National Stadium from Nov 22 to Dec 20. The Lions are the defending champions, hoping to clinch the Cup for an unprecedented fifth time.

The Singapore-Malaysia friendly could be pushed back to November, with the Malaysia Cup likely to begin at the end of August. Last year's edition started on Aug 20, with the final on Nov 3.

Protection officer Najib Naim, 32, said: "If the opening match is against Juventus, I don't think I will watch it.

"The Singapore-Malaysia rivalry alone means the ground will be packed, and I am sure many fans want to see this epic game first at the National Stadium."


This article was first published on May 26, 2014.
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