SINGAPORE - It was an evening which brought together Singapore's football stars of yesterday, today, and tomorrow at the National Stadium for the Sultan of Selangor's Cup.
And even though it was a friendly encounter, a taste of the old-school Causeway rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore could be felt on Saturday (May 6) at the National Stadium for the fans who filled both the lower and upper stands at the 55,000 seat venue.
The Singapore Sports School team, who had just won the Schools National B division boys' title two weeks ago, were the first to run out onto the Kallang field for the curtain raiser. The youngsters beat their Selangor counterparts 3-2 on penalties after the 50-minute game ended 1-1.
Secondary Four student Ashley Yong, 16, said it was an unforgettable experience. The right-winger said: "Before the match, we knew that there was a strong rivalry between the two countries. It's exciting to play in front of such a big crowd and have so many people cheering for us."
After that, household names from the Malaysia Cup's heyday more than 20 years ago such as Fandi Ahmad, Malek Awab and Yahya Madon gave a touch of nostalgia to the evening. The 80-minute match between Singapore and Selangor veterans saw flashes of brilliance including bicycle kicks, curling free-kicks and mazy dribbles from the former players of both sides. But it ended in a stalemate and the two sides were declared joint winners.
The loudest cheers were reserved for the main exhibition match between the S-League all-stars squad and the Malaysian state selection team, comprising players from Malaysia Super League ninth-placed side PKNS.
The home supporters, including parents cradling babies, and many of whom appeared dressed in various shades of red, came alive in the 11th minute when Home United striker Khairul Nizam headed the first goal in for the hosts.
Tampines Rovers' defender Shakir Hamzah doubled the lead just before half-time, firing a shot past goalkeeper Zamir Selamat from the edge of the penalty box.
The atmosphere picked up a notch in the second half.
Selangor's captain and Malaysia international Safee Sali missed a penalty in the 53rd minute, while six minutes later, Home United winger Faris Ramli converted his spotkick to put his side 3-0 up.
The closing stages of the match became tense after Safee and Gonzalo Manuel Soto scored for the visitors in the 63rd and 77th minutes respectively to close the gap to one goal.
In the end, the hosts ruled the night and lifted the Sultan of Selangor's Cup for the seventh time since the friendly started in 2001.
It was the first time the Cup was held in Singapore since 2009.