Concert and rugby match jeopardise S'pore's hosting rights of Suzuki Cup
The Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup is slightly over six weeks away.
All eyes will be on national coach Bernd Stange and his Lions to see if they can retain the regional crown they won two years ago in Bangkok, this time on home soil at the spanking new National Stadium at the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub.
But, in a stunning development, The New Paper has learnt that holding matches at the National Stadium venue could be in jeopardy.
A Jay Chou concert and an exhibition rugby game.
The New Paper understands that the AFF has strict guidelines on the usage of venues for the Suzuki Cup before the tournament, insisting stadiums should not be used for any other matches or events a minimum of 15 working days prior to the first match at the stadium.
Singapore and Vietnam are co-hosts of the Suzuki Cup.
The Lions have been drawn in Group B, alongside Thailand, Malaysia and the team that win the qualifying tournament - Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Timor Leste - while Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and the runners-up from the qualifiers will battle it out in Group A.
All Group B games have been scheduled at the National Stadium (except for one, to ensure the final two matches of the group kick off at the same time) and the Lions play their first match on Nov 23.
CLASH OF DATES
This means the Nov 8 date for Taiwanese Mandopop king Chou's "Opus 2 Jay 2014 World Tour" concert and the Nov 15 date for an exhibition rugby match between the Maori All Blacks and Asia Pacific Dragons (a Singapore-based invitational side comprising Asian and Polynesian players) at the National Stadium contravene the AFF regulation.
Acknowledging the issue, AFF general secretary Datuk Azzudin Ahmad told TNP yesterday: "We are addressing the issue and will come to a conclusion by Oct 14.
"Whether (the hosting rights change hands) is not for me to decide, it's for the AFF committee who will sit down at discuss this matter.
"But we won't close one eye... It's an undertaking by all host countries, not just Singapore, to make sure the tournament venues are ready for the competition."
In response to queries, a Sports Hub spokesman said: "SportsHub Pte Ltd is working closely with FAS and AFF to resolve any potential issues that may arise."
If there is a compromise, then it is believed the Jay Chou concert would go on while the rugby match will be postponed.
The worst case scenario is for matches to be played at the 7,500-capacity Jalan Besar Stadium.
The state of the pitch at the National Stadium is the concern.
The Desso pitch has hardly bedded in and much of the playing surface for the Juventus friendly with the Singapore Selection on Aug 16 was sand, leading to many complaints from fans.
Brazil play Japan in a glamour friendly there on Tuesday and, with the Jay Chou concert and the rugby match, there is concern the pitch will not be able to hold up for a football tournament just a little over a week later.
When contacted yesterday, the Football Association of Singapore said that "it will work closely with all stakeholders while awaiting the AFF's decision and will issue a statement at an appropriate time."
Stange, who took over the reins of Singapore's national team in May last year, is hopeful that there will be a compromise.
Speaking to TNP before the national team left for a week-long trip to Hong Kong for two international friendlies, the 66-year-old German said: "I think they will make sure it happens (at the National Stadium).
"There are contracts involved... But I take it as it is.
"I cannot change what will be decided. And if I can't, I'm a man, I have to face the challenge."
The former Hertha Berlin coach also expressed his frustration that his team have not been able to train regularly at the National Stadium.
Said Stange: "It seems like we cannot practise there before the Suzuki Cup. Japan and Brazil can practise there, we cannot.
"But... I'm happy to have the stadium, a big home crowd, and my dream is that the stadium can take our boys to the next level."
Home advantage vital for Lions
HISTORIC: R Suria Murthi were inspired by the home crowd. PHOTO: TNP FILE
HISTORIC: Malek Awab were inspired by the home crowd. PHOTO: TNP FILE
HISTORIC: Ridhuan Muhammad were inspired by the home crowd. PHOTO: BH FILE
They are Lions from three different generations, but R Suria Murthi, Malek Awab and Ridhuan Muhammad have one thing in common: they all tasted glory while proudly wearing the Singapore flag on their chest.
And the trio say one big reason was the fervent support of the fans at the old National Stadium.
They believe that if the new 55,000-capacity National Stadium at the Singapore Sports Hub draws in the crowd for the AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, then success could well be on the cards for Bernd Stange's men, who will take on formidable Thailand and Malaysia in their group campaign.
Suria, 56, won two Malaysia Cups with Singapore in 1977 and 1980, and he said: "The support we had was fantastic, and it was crucial to our success.
"There was football fever whenever we had home games. A week before, everybody was talking about the match. At the market, at the barbershop, everywhere.
"And, as a player, the bigger the crowd, the better I played."
Malek, 53, was the midfield dynamo the next time Singapore won the Malaysia Cup in 1994.
He said of the supporters then: "They were a big reason for our league and cup double.
"Can you imagine having 55,000 people turning up just for you? Of course it makes you feel good, makes you feel important.
"It makes you want to fulfil what these fans want. In fact, you don't just want to win, you want to win in style and play well."
Ridhuan, 30, was a member of the Lions team that won consecutive Suzuki Cups in 2004 and 2007.
The winger was so pumped up by the sight of a packed stadium before the semi-final second leg against arch-rivals Malaysia in January, 2007, that he was able to play through the pain barrier, even with 12 stitches above his eyebrow.
Sporting a bandaged head as he headed into battle, he eventually scored the goal that forced the tie into a penalty shoot-out, which saw the Lions triumph.
"I got the cut in the first leg just days earlier and the wound was still raw, but there was no way I wasn't going to play," Ridhuan recalled.
"The fans gave us such a boost I didn't feel the pain... I felt it only after I scored... Because (teammate) Noh Alam Shah shook my head during the celebration and I started bleeding again!"
While the surface of the pitch at the new stadium is of top priority, with this year's Suzuki Cup just over six weeks away, Ridhuan and Suria hope the Lions will have some time to train there and get used to it.