2015 Asean Para Games

Asean Para Games: Singapore's 'Fergie' inspires victory

An emotional Muhammad Mubarak (No. 11), who scored the winner, celebrating with members of the Singapore celebral palsy football team after beating Malaysia 2-1 to win the bronze.
An emotional Muhammad Mubarak (No. 11), who scored the winner, celebrating with members of the Singapore celebral palsy football team after beating Malaysia 2-1 to win the bronze.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Coach Zainudeen hopes to secure sponsors, find players and dream of gold from now on

Singapore coach Mohamed Zainudeen - in his players' words - "did an Alex Ferguson" during half-time of the cerebral palsy football bronze play-off at the Asean Para Games (APG) yesterday.

Boots did not fly and no cups of tea were thrown.

But the 46-year-old showcased the Scot's famous hairdryer treatment with a verbal tirade against his under-performing troops.

The score was level at 1-1 with Malaysia, and Zainudeen felt his team were sloppy in their passing and were giving their opponents too much space and respect in midfield.

"Sometimes, my players need a wake-up call - we weren't competing like we used to so I reminded them of what it means to play in front of your home crowd," he said with a wry smile.

"The boys heard my shouts. After the break, they rose to the occasion."

In the process, the 3,000-strong crowd at the National Stadium rose from their seats after a burst of brilliance from forward Muhammad Mubarak.

Cutting past his marker from the left wing, the 23-year-old unleashed a powerful grounder that clipped the inside of the post en route to the net.

It proved to be the winner in a match the hosts should have wrapped up earlier, if not for some wayward shooting and the form of Malaysia goalkeeper Shafiq Zahari.

At the final whistle, the Singapore players collapsed onto the turf in ecstasy, mobbed by team-mates and officials rushing in from the bench.

"I'm speechless," said captain Khairul Anwar, the team's top scorer with five goals.

"This team was formed six years ago with very little support. We had to beg for jerseys and balls.

"Now, we have won a medal on home soil. It was all worth it, and I dedicate our win to coach Zai, our very own Ferguson."

Inspiring stories abound within the 13-strong squad.

Striker Jeremiah Tan has coordination and balance problems in all four limbs and trunk. He stands at 1.54m but is a giant out on the field, earning some of the loudest cheers for chasing down every loose ball.

Peter Kam started the tournament as a back-up defender and ended it as the first choice in goal.

Yesterday, he was quick with his legs several times to prevent Malaysian striker Sobri Ghazali from adding to his equaliser from 25m in the fifth minute.

NEVER SAY DIE

Our team will never quit. If you score against us, we will do our best to hit back. If it means fighting for the ball till we collapse, we will do it.

PETER KAM , defender

The hosts had taken the lead inside two minutes when Mubarak's low corner was tapped in from close range by Shafiq Ariff.

"Our team will never quit," said Kam, a sales executive. "If you score against us, we will do our best to hit back. If it means fighting for the ball till we collapse, we will do it."

The 25-year-old shed tears of joy in the dressing room, adorned with newspaper articles of their exploits this week as motivation.

Now that his team are in the public eye, Zainudeen hopes it will be easier to secure sponsors and find more players for future competitions.

He said: "We are grateful for all the support at APG but I hope it doesn't end tomorrow.

"We are a national team. I hope others will recognise us this way too and we can start to dream of the gold."

For now, just like their able-bodied counterparts, Thailand are the regional kings of CP football. The kingdom brushed past defending champions Myanmar 3-0 in the final to earn a deserved gold as the tournament's most expressive and exciting outfit.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2015, with the headline 'S'pore's 'Fergie' inspires victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe