Marriage test on the soccer pitch

I'm Singaporean, and my husband is Burmese.

Which also meant that the Singapore- Myanmar soccer match at the AFF Suzuki Cup on Wednesday was set for a spectacular husband-wife showdown.

I called my husband from the office, trying to keep my voice even: "Honey, I've scored a pair of free tickets to the Singapore-Myanmar soccer match tonight! We should go!"

"Oh, umm, okay?" he paused, betraying an utter lack of interest in the subject. Neither of us is a soccer fan, and although we do watch it casually - we caught a fair bit of the World Cup on TV - it's never quite been something that has ignited the sort of rabid passion that caused Myanmar fans in Yangon to riot after they lost 1-0 to Indonesia at the SEA Games last year, eliminating them from the finals.

We'd driven past the Yangon stadium the next day. "Wait," one of our friends remarked, "look at that billboard." It was completely charred. Shreds of what used to be an advertisement flapped limply in the breeze. We later found out that a horde of devastated fans had set it alight the night before. In Yangon, kids often play death-defying street soccer, sometimes weaving expertly through oncoming traffic and ignoring the relentless monsoon rain.

My husband turned up at the National Stadium wearing a T-shirt with MYANMAR emblazoned across the chest. It made him quite the anomaly in the placid Singapore section, where scattered pockets of fans, some wearing Manchester United jerseys, were more content to let a group of about 100 S-League supporters down by the front do the cheering, singing and drumming for them. (Granted, we did half-heartedly take part in a few Kallang waves.)

At the other end of the stadium, a tightly packed slice of several thousand amped-up Myanmar fans stomped and shouted, unfurling an enormous Myanmar flag and passing it up and down the bleachers.

But a strange thing happened after Singapore scored three goals in quick succession: my oft-suppressed Competitive Nature came crawling to the surface as I screamed myself slightly hoarse. "We are THRASHING you guys," I squealed, triumphant, "the wife ALWAYS wins!" My long- suffering husband sighed.

During half-time, I grinned and elbowed him in the ribs. "We're so going to win this," I gloated. He snorted, but then conceded: "Yeah. I think it's going to be 5-1." We laughed. What is it about football that transcended geopolitical boundaries... and bonds of marriage?

Perhaps because the game is a little like marriage: so easy to understand, but so difficult to play. There's a bit of a charming contradiction to the sport - all you really have to do is nudge that ball into the net, but the 90 minutes that transpire in between are a gruelling test of endurance and skill. This began to show in the second half when the Singapore team, perhaps suffering from the same complacency that I did, played a messy, ragged game, giving up two goals in the process, including a penalty in the goal area that was basically a shoo-in.

My husband was gleeful, and so were the Burmese fans. Their players, small and wiry, are substantially shorter than ours, but what they lacked in skill and build they made up for with heart.

"Maybe I'll riot!" my husband joked as the second half drew to a close and Singapore edged in another goal, making the final score 4-2. They didn't, of course - in fact, the guests were a lot more generous than we bargained for. In a quiet show of great sportsmanship, many of the Myanmar fans stayed behind to pick up the trash in their corner of the stadium and then filtered calmly out of the stands.

You'll be happy to know that we also left the stadium with our marriage intact. A house divided can still stand, sometimes - if you let your wife win, that is.

corriet@sph.com.sg