Football: Stage fright at National Stadium for AFC Cup match? Not for the Tampines Stags

Tampines Rovers striker Fazrul Nawaz attempting a shot as midfielder Izzdin Shafiq looks on during training at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. Coach V. Sundramoorthy does not feel that nerves will be a problem.
Tampines Rovers striker Fazrul Nawaz attempting a shot as midfielder Izzdin Shafiq looks on during training at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. Coach V. Sundramoorthy does not feel that nerves will be a problem.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Star Pennant used to big-game atmosphere, Mustafic eager for National Stadium debut

It is possibly one of the grandest settings he will play in while donning Tampines Rovers colours.

But the S-League's marquee signing Jermaine Pennant appears unbothered by the prospect of playing at the National Stadium on Tuesday in the must-win Asian Football Confederation Cup (AFC Cup) match against Malaysian giants Selangor.

The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger, who is used to playing in front of sell-out crowds in England and even played in a European Champions League final, brushed aside any worries of pressure.

He told The Straits Times after yesterday's training session at the Jalan Besar Stadium: "Apart from the pitch and stadium, it's the same as playing in the league.

"Hopefully the team can benefit from playing on a nice surface."

However, the 33-year-old is aware of the task at hand, noting that the final group game is the team's biggest one so far this year.

Filipino side Ceres La Salle top the four-team Group E with nine points ahead of Selangor (eight) and Tampines (seven).

With the top two progressing to the last 16, anything less than a victory will spell elimination.

Pennant said: "You can afford to lose in the league, and make up for it in the games to come. But now, if we don't win, we're out. If we do, we're through... it's all or nothing."

While the Englishman is calm and collected, captain Mustafic Fahrudin cannot wait to make his debut at the 55,000-seater National Stadium.

The former Lion said: "I hope I will start the game and play my part. I am looking forward to having a taste of the stadium, so at least one day I can say I've played in both national stadiums."

With the Stags largely comprising current and former national players, he is urging Singaporeans to hark back to the golden age of local football and look at the match as a Singapore-versus-Selangor affair.

He said: "It's not just about Tampines. I think everyone who loves Singapore football should come down and support us. With this team, it feels like I've been called up to the national team again."

Yet with the Football Association of Singapore revealing that just 5,000 tickets had been taken up as of Friday, Tampines could potentially face their opponents in front of swathes of empty seats.

But coach V. Sundramoorthy played down the slow ticket sales. He said: "It's a big stadium, people will take their time to buy the ticket, and come late for the game. There is no need to rush, it's not like it's a 5,000-seater stadium."

With the Stags being the first S-League team to play at the new National Stadium, he added: "It's like a Cup final. They just have to prepare themselves physically and mentally, and deliver on the pitch.

"The boys would love to play on the big stage. I don't think nerves will be a problem."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Stage fright? Not for Stags'. Print Edition | Subscribe