Sunday, June 7, 2009

Gombak United 0 at Super Reds 1 (S.League, League Cup) - June 4, 2009

There's not a lot of spectator sports in Singapore. As a city state with less than 5 million people, it's tough to form a league that can attract local talent as well as find enough stadiums to play in. Nonetheless, there has been a Singaporean soccer league since 1996. Known as the S.League, it's had its ups and downs in that time, but is now a full member of the Asian Football Confederation, sending one team to the AFC Champions League. Of course, that team gets destroyed, but still, its progress.

The League currently has 12 teams, including one side based in nearby Brunei. They play a full schedule of games, as well as the League Cup, equivalent to England's Carling Cup. However, unlike most cup tournaments, the League Cup here is played in 3 consecutive weeks, while the normal league is on hiatus. It started June 1st and the second round of games was to be played on June 4th, which is when I conveniently arrived in Singapore.

Fortunately, Singapore is very small, so I was able to get from the airport to my accomodation and over to Jalan Besar Stadium (outside pictured above here) in just over an hour, arriving about 20 minutes before the 7:45 kickoff. Tickets were $5 (about US$3.50). As I entered the stadium, I noticed a sign saying that photography was prohibited, except for media on the pitch. In Singapore, people obey the signs, I didn't notice anybody taking pictures of the action. Not sure the reasoning behind this, but I was quite careful to only take only a few shots, and none during the actual action on the pitch.

The stadium is very small, although it seats 6,000, only one side of the stadium is actually open to spectators. It was free seating, and with only 1,614 in attendance, you could pretty much sit anywhere. There were two small concession stands offering local delicacies such as fish balls on a stick ($1) and curry puffs ($1.50) - best food bargains in sports I think. For those not willing to experiment, hot dogs were also available (although judging by their appearance, you'd be better off with the curry puffs).

The game was between the Super Reds and Gombak United, who were last year's League Cup finalists (Gombak won 2-1 for those who are wondering). The Super Reds were formed in 2007 and are made up entirely of South Korean players - they are supported by the local Korean community in Singapore. Gombak United, on the other hand, have mostly Singaporean players, along with 2 Nigerians and one Australian.

The game itself was not that interesting. Although there were two goals scored in the first half, both were disallowed for offside. As the game progressed, you could notice the difference in tactics - Super Reds were possessing the ball more and trying to run set plays, while Gombak counter-attacked quickly, but did not play with the same cohesion. In the second half, the Reds pressed continuously, and it was clear that they were the better team tonight. They were rewarded when a long shot was saved by the Gombak keeper only to have the rebound put in by Choi Dong Soo. But celebrations were quickly snuffed out when Choi was ruled offside. I thought that the ball had to be played to the player who was offside in order for the flag to be raised, but apparently not. Far be it from me to tell the most popular sport in the world how to run the game, but that goal should have counted.

The Reds did not let themselves lose faith though, and continued to press, finally scoring a legal goal when Choi headed in a cross off a corner kick, leading to the celebration shown above. Gombak tried to respond, but could not manage to find a tying goal, and the Reds walk away with a well-deserved 1-0 win.

The quality of play was not that good here - it turns out Gombak United is currently leading the league, but they did not show good form. There were many giveaways, and the Reds dominated possession.

As the game progressed, there was a lot of chippiness and poorly taken fouls. Of course, the worst thing was the writhing players after nearly every foul. In one case, a Red was fouled, he went down like he had been shot, and rolled around in pain. The referee came over and asked if he needed a stretcher, the player managed, through his intense pain, to nod yes. The stretcher brigade, who had already been out 3 or 4 times, jogged slowly out, smiles on their faces. I guess they knew this player's reputation, because as soon as they carried him to the sidelines, he bounced up and asked to re-enter play. The referee surprisingly allowed this (I think if you need a stretcher, 5 minutes on the sideline should be the minimum, not 5 seconds) and the player shamelessly returned to the pitch.

All-in-all, a rather uninspiring affair - there were more games on Friday night, but after this, I think I've had my fill of the S.League for now. I'll follow it online and let you know who wins the Cup in a couple of weeks time.

The final score



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