Asean University Games 2016

Asean University Games: Malaysia wins intense cross-Causeway battle

As the two teams' national anthems played on the speakers - Malaysia's Negaraku, followed by Singapore's Majulah Singapura - every footballer on the pitch sang their respective anthems, showing their pride under yesterday's sweltering sun.

Both donning their traditional colours, the Malaysians, clad in yellow and black, were about to lock horns with the Republic, in red and white, in yet another fiery Causeway clash.

However, it was not Kallang or Bukit Jalil Stadium that played host to this historic rivalry but the idyllic setting at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) main field.

There was a jungle nearby and construction was going on right beside the field as the match kicked off. But even though it was just an Asean University Games (AUG) Group B match, it was just as spirited and intense as a full international game.

Malaysia picked up a vital victory in their AUG opener when they beat the hosts 1-0. The visitors scored on the stroke of half-time when midfielder Khairul Nasreen headed in from a corner.

Singapore midfielder Ong Zhi Hao trying to fend off the Malaysian university team’s captain Muhd Asyraf Nanwi in their AUG match at NTU. The hosts lost 0-1 and are hoping that their Causeway rivals can beat Cambodia by at least two goals for them to enter the semi-finals. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Malaysia coach Khairun Masirom said: "The game was a very difficult one for the boys. Facing Singapore was always going to be tough, knowing the history and our past.

"We were very lucky to have won 1-0. The boys did not play as well as I had hoped and scraped through."

Singapore team manager Samuel Tan downplayed the rivalry, saying: "I don't think the pressure of the rivalry got to the boys. They were more than up for this.

"When the draw was made in June, everyone was looking forward to playing Malaysia. In the end, it all came down to composure and Malaysia needed just one chance which they took."

Both teams were never shy to play rough, putting in tough tackles and solid challenges in a match that drew many stoppages from Thai referee Mongkolchai P.

Just 10 minutes in, Malaysian Syafie Abdul Rahman was forced off after a clash with a defender and was taken to a nearby hospital to have four stitches on his head.

His team-mate Abednego Ujang was also stretchered off in the second half after a challenge.

Former LionsXII squad member Randy Pay, now a NUS business undergraduate, was left ruing the defeat. He said: "In the first half, we knew this Malaysian team wasn't very strong. Playing with the LionsXII and going up against other (Malaysian) teams or even from my last AUG experience, this team was way off the usual standards.

"We could've won today, if not for our luck and chances not going our way but now, we just hope Malaysia can do us a favour and play the waiting game."

Malaysia top Group B with three points and Singapore lie bottom in the three-team table on a point - they drew 1-1 with Cambodia on Saturday. Their fate will be decided tomorrow when Cambodia take on Malaysia - the latter must win by two goals or more to see the host nation progress into the final four.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Malaysia win intense cross-Causeway battle'. Print Edition | Subscribe