SINGAPORE - Less than 10 minutes into Thursday's (April 28) National B Division girls' football final, the lightning warning system alarm went off at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
It led to a half-hour delay but for players of Queensway Secondary School and Meridian Secondary School as well as the 300 students and staff in the stands, it was nothing compared to the two years they had waited for this occasion.
The National School Games (NSG) was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic and football was not one of the 12 sports which featured last year in a restricted format held behind closed doors.
All 29 sports have returned for this year's NSG though it was only from Tuesday when Ministry of Education announced that student supporters would be allowed at the semi-finals and finals of various NSG competitions.
With school flags waved with gusto and loud cheers from supporters of both finalists, it was clearly a carnival atmosphere inside the Jalan Besar grounds.
There was plenty of drama on the field to match it as Meridian goalkeeper Katheleen Foo was given a red card in the ninth minute after hauling down Queensway forward Wan Nashirah in the penalty box.
Nurzaherra Maisarah made no mistake with her spot kick and Queensway, champions in 2018 and 2019, never looked back, completing a dominant 4-0 win.
Queensway forward Nahwah Aidilreza, who scored a brace in the 60-minute final, said: "Having supporters who were behind us from the first whistle was a big motivation for us. It made us run a little faster and fight a bit harder.
"Even if it was a simple dribble, our schoolmates were excited and these are things that can give you goosebumps."
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Meridian's players battled bravely and kept the score at 1-0 until the 48th minute when Nahwah doubled Queensway's lead.
Teammate Irsalina Irwan added a third seven minutes later before Nahwah got her second in the final minute of the game.
Meridian coach Fabio da Silva said: "We wanted to reach this level and now that we made it to a final, it was a good experience for us.
"The red card changed the game but Queensway deserved the win.
"We need to maintain this level and be regulars in the final now that we have this experience. I believe we will be here again in the years to come."
For national Under-16 player Nahwah, returning to the same venue where she had watched the senior team compete in the FAS Tri-Nations Series (Women's) tournament earlier this month was especially poignant.
The Secondary 3 student said: "I was definitely inspired by the crowd that came to watch the national team in both the matches they played.
"I really look up to those players especially Dorcas (Chu), Putri (Nur Syaliza Sazali) and Danelle (Tan) and I told myself that I wanted to also be a difference maker for my team (just like them)."
The 15-year-old has loftier ambitions in mind and wants to follow in the footsteps of Putri, who was also from Queensway Secondary.
The midfielder is currently on a two-year scholarship at the Eastern Florida State College in United States, where she is completing an associate in arts degree.
Said Nahwah: "First, I want to play for the national team as soon as I can but more than that, my dream is to play for the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) women's team.
"I want to become a better player than Putri."
Being part of the lively crowd for an NSG match has whetted the appetite of Naufal Affandi, who is captain of Meridian's B division boys' football team.
He and his teammates will compete in the semi-finals in the weeks ahead.
The 16-year-old said: "It was great to be able to cheer on the girls and motivate them. Being here makes me excited for our matches ahead because this is an atmosphere that you would want to have."