Brazil, Senegal in drab draw at National Stadium
Star names provide low quality action in front of 20,000 crowd at Kallang
Almost five years ago, five-time World Cup winners Brazil mesmerised a packed 51,577-strong crowd at the National Stadium as they tore apart Japan 4-0.
Then, samba football was in full flow as Kallang was filled with yellow shirts aplenty.
Last night, the Selecao flattered to deceive in a hapless atmosphere at the same venue, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Senegal. Unlike in 2014, there was a lack of quality on show, both in terms of the action on the pitch and the disappointing turnout in the stands.
The official attendance figure read out five minutes before the final whistle was 20,621.
Perhaps the low turnout was due to the waning power and draw of the Selecao, who have been synonymous with producing beautiful football. The latest result means the Selecao are winless in their last three matches.
It was a far cry from Oct 2014 when there was barely an empty seat in the house.
NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Neymar, who sensationally scored all four goals in the win four years ago, was a pale shadow of his usual self last night. There were no real flicks and tricks nor was there any element of histrionics on display.
At least for him, it would still be a night to remember, as he earned his 100th cap for his country, joining the likes of Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Dani Alves, Lucio, Claudio Taffarel and Robinho.
Not surprisingly, Brazil coach Tite was not impressed with their showing. He said: "We are not pleased with the performance and the result. It wasn't what we were looking for."
When asked about Neymar's less-than-stellar performance, he said: "Neymar has been injured and he's still getting back to his form and the rhythm of our play."
Despite all the Brazilian star power on display - Neymar, Liverpool attacker Roberto Firmino, Real Madrid midfield lynchpin Casemiro, Bayern Munich playmaker Philippe Coutinho all started the game - it was a Senegal star who drew the loudest cheers.
Twice, Liverpool forward Sadio Mane got the fans on their feet, raising the decibels to the highest levels of the night with his directness.
But before Mane was influential in his side's goal, it was Brazil who scored the opener.
While their respective clubs are trying to outdo each other in the race for the English Premier League title, Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus and Liverpool's Firmino linked up perfectly in the ninth minute for the opening goal.
Jesus, starting on the right flank, played an inch-perfect pass on to the path of Firmino, who produced a delightful dink over goalkeeper Alfred Gomis.
Then, it was Mane's turn to strut his stuff. Just before half-time, he picked up the ball on the left flank and drove at the Brazilian defence in the box, and was fouled by defender Marquinhos. Famara Diedhiou converted the resulting spot-kick.
Mane was at it again in the 85th minute. Jinking past two defenders, his shot from outside the box cannoned off the post.
But that was as good as it got in a match devoid of real goalmouth action.
A rare source of excitement, though, came in the form of three whipper-snappers, who invaded the pitch separately at half-time and full-time.
One Brazilian in attendance was Thiago Spata, who works in procurement, and the 36-year-old expressed his surprise at the turnout.
He told The New Paper: "In Brazil, it's quite different. Most of the players play overseas, so when the national team play in Brazil, the stadium is full. Here, the tickets are too expensive. And I don't know if people are interested in football, but I see fans in Liverpool jerseys and jerseys of other English teams."
Brazil team coordinator Juninho said: "Disappointing because it's a good game and we always like to see a stadium full of people. It was a good game with good teams and we hope to see more people (against Nigeria) on Sunday."
But Singaporean student Jeong Jae Yeob, 24, was more than satisfied with catching the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Firmino up close.
He said: "I came down with my friends to watch this game and I am really happy with what I saw. We are lucky to be here in Singapore where we can watch top-tier sports stars in action quite regularly. Not everyone in the world can say they got to see these players play live."
Napoli and Senegal centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly played down the talk of a half-empty stadium.
He said: "I am happy to be here. It is a nice country. For the stadium (being half-empty), I was more focused on the game. It was a nice atmosphere and I am happy tonight."
- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DILENJIT SINGH
Ederson, Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Alex Sandro (Renan Lodi 79), Casemiro, Arthur (Matheus Henrique 68), Philippe Coutinho (Richarlison 72), Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino (Everton 59)
Alfred Gomis, Lamine Gassama, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane, Racine Coly, Idrissa Gueye (Keita Balde 79), Cheikhou Kouyate (Sidy Sarr 67), Krepin Diatta, Sadio Mane, Ismaila Sarr, Famara Diedhiou