Oldest Lion Ismadi: Everything seemed unreal
He stood in the bowels of the National Stadium on Sunday night, poised to walk out of the tunnel onto the green stage of the magnificent facility to take on regional giants Thailand.
Instead of marching forward and out, Ismadi Mukhtar's mind tunnelled backwards in time.
After all, the oldest man in Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup squad (he will turn 31 next month) was making his first appearance in the country's colours at a major competition.
"For a moment, everything seemed unreal," he told The New Paper yesterday.
"I recalled how it all started, signing my first contract with Woodlands Wellington (in 2008)...participating in regional tournaments (with Tampines Rovers), winning medals, losing in finals.
"To be called up by the national team at this stage of my career...It's just unbelievable."
While Aleksandar Duric first donned a Singapore shirt at 37, he was not born here.
The moment was not lost on fullback Ismadi.
"Singing the national anthem at the new National Stadium in front of my fellow Singaporeans, family and friends was one of the most cherished moments of my life," said Ismadi.
"It's an honour to be part of history, to be the first few to play in that arena."
While he may not have much international experience, Ismadi is a seasoned professional and he had his game face on the moment the whistle blew.
"I thought I did quite well dealing with (Thai) attacks on my side and, apart from the goal we conceded in the first half, I think we defended reasonably well as a team," he said, of the 2-1 defeat that dampened his debut.
"We gave our 110 per cent, what more could we ask for?"
"We just have to swallow the bitter pill and move on," he added.
"Now we just have to focus on getting maximum points from our next two games and secure our place in the semis."