EXO's Singapore concert full of surprises

Despite the departure of three members, K-Pop boy band EXO more than kept the crowd going during their two-day concert here

EXCITED: (Above) Fans of K-Pop boy band EXO Celine Tan and Karilynn Low before the start of the concert at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Saturday night.
EXCITED: (Above) Fans Berlinda Loh and Bryan Quek had props to hold up during the concert.

When top K-pop boy band EXO had their first full-length concert here in August 2014, former Chinese member Kris had already left the group due to contractual issues with their company, SM Entertainment.

There were more shocking changes to the group's lineup from that time to their two-day gig here over the weekend.

The show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was part of their EXO PLANET #2 - The EXO'luXion tour.

Chinese members Luhan and Tao also made their exits and ventured out as solo artists in October 2014 and August 2015 respectively.

Both cited health reasons and unfair treatment by SM Entertainment.

Despite the absence of these three popular idols, the remaining eight Koreans members - Xiumin, 25, Suho, 24, Baekhyun, 23, Chanyeol, 23, Chen, 23, D.O, 22, Kai, 21, Sehun, 21 - and sole Chinese member Lay, 24, proved they could still keep their popularity going strong.

EXO's two-hour set on Saturday was full of surprises.

Lay's onstage appearance was enough to send the 6,000 fans into screaming fits.

EXO member Lay during the song Lucky where the members change their outfits onstage behind a white paper screen. TNP PHOTO: SUKMAWATI UMAR LITAK

They had assumed he would not be there because of his promotional activities in China.

Polytechnic student Tan Li Yan, 20, said she could not control her emotions and nearly jumped out of her seat when Lay appeared.

She told The New Paper: "I was initially upset because everyone was saying that Lay wouldn't turn up.

"He's one of my favourite members and the only Chinese member left.

"It means a lot to the fans that he's still staying strong with the group."

During the short breaks between crowd favourites that included Overdose, Call Me Baby, Love Me Right and Growl, the boy banders talked about how they were dripping wet with perspiration because of the warm and humid climate here.

Baekhyun teased the audience: "We're sweating so much.

"Is it because of the hot weather in Singapore or is it because of EXO-L's (the name given to the fans) love and passion?"

EXHILARATING

The venue was transformed into a deafening and exhilarating club when Chanyeol walked to the centre of the stage to hype up the crowd by playing the part of DJ during songs Drop That and Let Out The Beast.

EXO performing during the song Let Out the Beast and Drop That. TNP PHOTO: SUKMAWATI UMAR LITAK

But the biggest surprise came towards the end of the concert.

For the band's usual encore song Promise, the fans had prepared banners with the Korean lyrics for "I want to protect your smile".

 

 

But, to their fans' confusion and uncertainty, EXO performed their latest songs Sing For You and Unfair instead.

They are from their special winter EP album, Sing For You, which was released last month.

The fans eventually raised their banners during the title track Sing For You, a touching number about EXO's gratitude towards their diehard supporters.

BIRTHDAYS

The band also got their fans to sing the Happy Birthday song for D.O and Kai, whose birthdays are on Jan 12 and Jan 14 respectively.

Junior college student Bryan Quek, 17, and polytechnic student Berlinda Loh, 17, screamed themselves hoarse when D.O and Kai hugged and smiled for the cameras after expressing their gratitude.

 

 

To cap off the night, leader Suho announced that they will be releasing an album this year, coupled with "lots of activities" to promote it.

When asked if the changes in EXO's line-up made any difference, Bryan said: "It did as I've grown attached to each member over the years.

"I think EXO is getting bigger due to their dedication and effort. If they're not successful, they wouldn't have a two-day concert here, right?"

Berlinda said: "EXO has been working very hard. They're still perfect no matter what."

For secondary school classmates Celine Tan, 16, and Karilynn Low, 17, the gig was a treat before the release of their O-level results today.

Karilynn, who has been a fan since EXO's pre-debut days, said: "It's our first concert and I think it's perfect.

"Whether there are 12 or nine members, there's no difference because I still see all of them as one."

 

 

 

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Little-known Firdaus to coach Thai club Chainat

Unheralded Singaporean Firdaus joins TPL's Chainat as first-team coach

NEW: Chainat FC first-team coach Firdaus Kassim.

It was at Pasir Ris where his love for the sport first came to life. 

Far away from the bright lights of professional football, it was fanned by library books and a video game, and on bumpy public pitches where the sport - unadulterated - was played with sticks and strings as goal posts.  

Firdaus Kassim preferred the unconventional path, and it also applies to his coaching career. 

With an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) B coaching badge in hand, he worked his way through the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) coaching network in the Junior Centres of Excellence (JCOE) programme and the National Football Academy (NFA).

The 28-year-old has now leapt ahead of several more prominent names, joining Chainat FC in the Thai Premier League (TPL). 

Firdaus, a former Hougang United Under-18 coach, has signed a one-year contract as first-team coach of Chainat, a club based some two hours north of Bangkok.

Although former Singapore assistant coach Robert Lim is now technical director at Chiang Mai FC, Firdaus is believed to be the first Singaporean to hold such a role in Thailand. 

P N Sivaji (Myanmar), Vincent Subramaniam (India), Mike Wong (Brunei) as well as Fandi Ahmad and V Sundramoorthy are other notable coaches who have flown Singapore's flag abroad. 

And all this went into motion when Firdaus was taking his AFC "A" badge in Thailand two months ago in a course conducted by Lim, who is also an AFC instructor.  

"I signed up for the course and paid for it myself, because I was under the impression that an S.League club were going to sign me for the 2016 season," he told The New Paper before he departed for Thailand on Jan 2.

"While I was doing the course, I found out that I wasn't getting that contract. 

"Of course I was completely lost when I found out, but the offer from Chainat came just a few hours later that day.

"I was told that the club wanted me to come in as a first-team coach, and of course I was shocked to see the kind of trust they were willing to put in me," added Firdaus, who revealed that he also received offers from other Thai clubs, along with a Malaysian third-tier side. 

Chainat finished 12th in the 18-team TPL last year, two spots behind Army United, where Singapore international goalkeeper Hassan Sunny is plying his trade. 

Behind Chainat manager Issara Sritaro and his assistant, Firdaus is the third most senior technical official at the club. 

Over and above coaching responsibilities, he will be in charge of analysing both Chainat and the opposition, and play a key role in player recruitment. 

NEW TPL SEASON

The 2016 TPL season is about a month away. With Chainat reportedly pursuing a player from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, Firdaus has gone from fretting over his team in the computer simulation game, Football Manager, to being directly involved in the possible signing of big-name players. 

"One of Chainat's coaches was at the course with me, and I guess he was impressed by the reports and analyses of games that I did during the course, and recommended me," he said. 

"I submitted some other reports (of matches in Asean) I did in my free time, but doing analysis isn't new to me, I've been doing it since I was 14," added Firdaus, who gave up on a Mathematics degree course at SIM University as well as a tuition-centre business to focus on his first love, football.  

"I understand that I'm young, I don't have much of a playing background, or have any connections in Singapore football, but I do have tons of notes that I made when I was younger," he said, smiling as he recounted coaching a 12-year-old Faris Ramli. 

"I definitely can't claim any credit for the player that Faris is today, he was already a great talent when he was 12."

Speaking to TNP again a week after his arrival in Thailand, Firdaus revealed how he has been blown away by the facilities and sports science know-how at Chainat.

The club also boast a full-time chef to ensure players are on a nutrition programme worthy of the sport's elite. 

"I'm very impressed with what I've seen so far. Chainat is a small town, not very modernised, but the club is a completely different world," said Firdaus, who still dreams of one day being involved in Singapore's national coaching set-up.

"The target is of course to come back and coach and do something for Singapore football. But in my role here, I am keeping an eye on the Singapore market (and maybe to bring) outstanding players here," he added.

"I am sure the experience at Chainat will be a steep learning curve for me, with a lot of bumps and bruises.

"Ultimately, Singapore is my home and I would love nothing more than to help change the football landscape."

THAI PREMIER LEAGUE 

The Thai Premier League (TPL) was formed in 1996, the same year Singapore embarked on its own professional football league. 

While the S.League was more successful than the TPL in its initial years, with several Thai internationals plying their trade in Singapore, the TPL has jumped far ahead since. 

In 2003, BEC Tero were losing finalists in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL), with several other teams like Bangkok Glass, Buriram United and Chonburi also flying the flag for the Kingdom. 

Warriors FC (then known as SAFFC) remain Singapore's best performing team in the ACL, dropping out in the opening group stage in 2010 with a win-draw-loss record  of 1-4-1. 

With big sponsors like Toyota, Coca-Cola and Chang Beer, Thai clubs now boast training facilities - with up to six training fields, gyms, boarding facilities and recovery areas - that Singapore clubs can only dream of. 

Thailand's local clubs have invested seriously in youth development, a move that has seen its national youth teams feature prominently, even beyond South-east Asia. 

In 2014, the Thai Under-23 side finished fourth at the Asian Games. 

Its senior national team are now the top-ranked Asean nation, coming in at 121st. Singapore are the fourth-best in the region, ranked 148th, behind the Philippines (135) and Vietnam (146).

FACT FILE

Name: Firdaus Kassim 

Age: 28 

Current club: Chainat FC 

Previous coaching experience (selected): 

FAS Junior Centre of Excellence 

National Football Academy U-14 assistant coach 

Hougang United U-18 coach 

Favourite clubs: Geylang International, Liverpool 

Favourite local player: I don't have a favourite, but I admire Safuwan Baharudin (PDRM FA). He's very versatile and very seldom disappoints. 

Biggest coaching influences: No one in particular. I admire coaches who don't have a playing background, like Jose Mourinho, Andres Villas-Boas, and Rafa Benitez. I can also relate to Brendan Rodgers, who spent 10 years in youth football, allowing him to experiment with new ideas without fear of losing his job. 

It's something I've tried to do during my time as a youth coach. 

Coaching dreams: I would love to contribute to local football in a capacity where I can give significant input. Working in the national set-up would be the long-term goal, but at the moment, I think the youth set-up in Singapore needs a lot of fixing, so that's where I'm looking to contribute.  

King of Chennai

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Singapore Slingers recover to win in overtime

Slingers struggle in regulation but American stars deliver in overtime

COMEBACK: Singapore Slingers' Xavier Alexander (centre) scoring in their 63-57 overtime win over the Pilipinas MX3 Kings at the OCBC Arena yesterday. 



ASEAN BASKETBALL LEAGUE

SINGAPORE SLINGERS 63

PILIPINAS MX3 KINGS 57

(Overtime)

When Elorde Juan Nicolas sank a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left on the clock, it sparked delirium among his Pilipinas MX3 Kings teammates at the OCBC Arena.

The score stood at 56-54 and all of a sudden, the high-flying Singapore Slingers, lying second in the six-team Asean Basketball League (ABL), were staring at defeat at home by a side that were propping up the table.

With their six-game winning streak hanging by a thread, Slingers coach Neo Beng Siang called for a time-out to calm nerves, as well as to ensure everyone out on court would be in sync for the final shot.

In a heart-stopping finale, the Slingers' Filipino guard Kris Rosales received the ball upon the restart, sent his opponent the wrong way and calmly sank a two-pointer just as the buzzer sounded.

There was some confusion, though, with players from the Kings furious, especially Nakiea Miller and captain Arizona Reid, who insisted that Rosales' shot had gone after the buzzer.

After much heated protest and some discussion with officials, the Slingers' final basket stood and the match went into overtime.

Seemingly sparked into life, the Slingers' star American imports Justin Howard and Xavier Alexander, anonymous for much of the match in regulation, scored all seven points in the five-minute overtime to haul the home team over the line 63-57.

The beaten Kings were cordial after the match, although Miller and Reid exchanged some words with the officials before the team quickly exited the OCBC Arena.

Alexander, 26, said: "The whole game was controversial. (Rosales' shot) was a good shot. They made a good one, we made a good one. We ended up being able to get it together in overtime and come away with a win."

Speaking to The New Paper later, Neo said: "What I saw was he (Rosales) released the ball before the lights went off (on the back board, signalling the end of the match), so the shot should have counted."

While relieved, Neo was "pretty pissed off" at the way his charges started the match.

He said: "It is all about complacency, because of the winning streak, I guess. Their body language told me they were not ready to come out and play.

"When we started off we were sloppy at both ends, and not really running together as a team both ends."

The Slingers trailed at half-time before forward Wu Qingde sunk five three-pointers in the third quarter to pull the hosts back into the game.

"At the point of time I was so tired, but my teammates gave me the confidence and I took the shot when I was open," said the 23-year-old, who led the Slingers' scoring table yesterday with 21 points.

With the result the Singapore team went top of the ABL table after 10 games, leapfrogging overnight leaders Hi-Tech Bangkok City, who have a game in hand.

City will look to reclaim top spot on Wednesday when they face Saigon Heat at home, before travelling to Singapore to face the Slingers on Sunday.

Eager to prevent a repeat of yesterday's slackness in the top-of-the-table clash next weekend, Neo has promised his players "a hard week" ahead in training.

He said: "Training will be full on; we really need to emphasise what we need to do. There is not a chance for them slack and have it easy."

- Additional reporting by AQIL HAZIQ MAHMUD

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