It started off as a battle among 2 Singapore teams, 2 English teams, 1 Italian team and 1 Brazilian team.
The Singapore under-15s and under-16s, together with Everton and Newcastle United under-15s and Juventus under-15 and CR Flamengo under-15s.
All sides were vying for one title – the 23rd Canon Lion City Cup. And after Everton and Newcastle United were booted out of the competition due to the fact that they finished last during the group stage and 2 semi-final clashes that saw the Singapore under-16s winning on penalties and the under-15 losing to Flamengo, it was all systems go to claim both 3rd and 1st place.
The proceedings of the day kicked off at 6.00pm, with the Singapore under-15s going against Juventus in a clash which would decide the 3rd and 4th place winners.
And it was the Singapore side that showed a taste of its goal-scoring flair in the 26th minute, when Irfan Iezran slid in cooly to the left-hand side of the goalmouth for a tantalising opener. This led to the Singapore team fanclub, Lions All The Way (LATW), breaking into rapturous cheers.
The LATW crew continued their cheers all the way into the 2nd half and were duly rewarded in the 63rd minute when Muhd Azhar launched a shot right outside the penalty area, giving Juventus custodian Elezaj Entonjo no chance to get his fingers on the ball.
This was after the Turin side’s forward, Fabio Gili, received his marching orders from the referee following his 2nd yellow card.
In response, the LATW crew were heard chanting, “Azhar is a legend!”
The crew did not have to wait longer than 5 minutes to cheer again, when Adam Swandi made it 3-0 as the son of former national striker Swandi Kit-to worked his way through the defensive barrier of the Italian opposition.
In the 84th minute, Muhd Azhar got his brace as he slotted a penalty home. 4-0 it was and a victory for the under-15 Cubs.
“You’ll never beat the Lions…” The LATW crew sang in unision. They were right this time.
But unfortunately for them, the same could not be said for the match after – the final between the Singapore under-16s and the CR Flamengo under-15s, as the Cubs crashed out to the Brazilian side 3-4 on penalties.
From the very start, it looked like an even contest between both sides, getting almost an equal percent of possession and constantly finding ways to penetrate one anothers’ defence.
But it was to no avail, as despite Singapore finding a couple of good chances – with one shot ramming straight into the crossbar, they were unable to break the deadlock at half time.
Still, the Cubs would have been comforted to know that the Everton under-15 team were rooting for them. As the support base for the LATW crew grew from around 20 to more than 40 in the cluster, the boys from the Toffees eagerly joined in, after a small group of CR Flamengo supporters paraded behind their dug-out with toms and flags.
The Cubs were left to rue many more missed chances in the 2nd half, as were Flamengo. This frustration was apparent between both sides as they gamely pushed forward in the hope of an answer.
But the calls for a respite from the goal drought were not met with any answer. “Come on, you Lions!” was pitted against the samba beat of the Flamengo fans. Head-to-head, the score after 94 minutes was still 0-0. That was when the penalties came.
The shootout saw No. 10 Hanfi Akbar of the Cubs scoring the first penalty. Brazilian Lincoln Fernando levelled the scoreline next.
But Iskandar Khairul Anuar, who scored in the previous semi-final penalty shootout against Juventus, found his shot saved. Hanafi stepped up the console him and more consolation was to come when CR Flamego’s next shot was saved.
But another miss by the Cubs saw them bowing out to the Brazilians, as the sudden-death kicked in and the Singapore side were left with a bitter taste of losing the trophy they came so close to winning on home soil.
Off the pitch, another bitter sentiment was shared among the LATW crew. There was an air of animosity against state-run media conglomerate Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). Their protest was in response to Malay daily newspaper Berita Harian’s story on the Cubs, which the fanclub perceived as cynical.
Nevertheless, there was anything but cynicism amongst the fans, as they applauded Flamengo for their win and the Cubs for their never-say-die attitude.
“We’ll try again, we’ll try again, we’ll try again, we’ll try A-GAIN…”, hollered fanclub ambassador Mervin Tan, 34, who is also a Hougang United fanclub ambassador.
That’s right, the Cubs will try again for their next shot at glory, come 2012. This time, for the 24th Lion City Cup.