18/07/2007

Leaving Vietnam, Leaving Singapore, Leaving Malaysia (a day in the life..)

After the game in Ho Chi Minh City, the scenes of celebration in the city centre were something to be seen. I got a taxi back from the stadium quite a while after the game, but he could not get me through to crowds of mopeds, and I had no choice but to walk the last few hundred yards. As I made my way through the cheering fans, I met one of the UAE press delegation who was being treated as if he was the hero that had single handily won a game for Vietnam. However, it should be said that few cities in Asia deserve the title, “the city that never sleeps”, and those in Vietnam are certainly listed as “the city that gets to bed early” – so I can report it was all quiet by around midnight. Still, a late night out for most locals.

It is not a groundhopper’s tale if it does not involve dashing long distances in order to see seemingly insignificant matches. A day without any game in the Asian Cup should allow me to make the considerable distance between Vietnam and Indonesia with ease, but I have to make things more difficult. My flight out of Ho Chi Minh City takes me to Singapore, while I have to catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Palembang, on the Indonesian isle of Sumatra. The gap between the two is easily traversed by bus, train or plane – and it was quite plausible to arrive in KL mid evening and spend the night there.

But Singapore is another country, not one of the hosts of the Asian Cup, and a failure in the qualification process. As a result, the S-League is playing on through the period of the tournament, and gives a chance for a few extra matches. The match is at Yishun, a typical ground for the S-League consisting of a running track with a slight banking to the surrounds. On one side are a few rows of seats, (and also behind both ends), while the opposite side has a large stand, two thirds given over to concrete seats, the central section with proper plastic seats. The crowd is sparse – just a few hundred, although I can guarantee it will officially be put somewhat higher. Generally there is no sign of affiliation for either team from the crowd, but there is a small group of supporters chanting and banging a drum in support of the visitors, Tampines Rovers. The home side, by contrast has a just a single drummer. But then Tampines Rovers are one of the better sides, and currently top of the league. The home side, by contrast are bottom and lack the obvious basis of support. This is because they are Korean Super Reds, one of the oddities of the Singaporean League, a ‘foreign’ team. There are three teams of this type in the league at the moment, the other two Lioaning and Abirex Niigata have parent teams in China and Japan respectively. Korean Super Reds are on their own in that they have no team in their home country to affiliate to, but are here on their own. This is not new – the league has had two other foreign teams in the past Sinchi (for Singaporean Chinese) and Sporting Afrique. Sinchi was a mix of mainland and local Chinese and lasted for several years without any success. The African team survived for only a season before the league decided to give them the push. They selected their players from a number of African countries.

The Super Reds team are all from Korea, and are basically a very young side. The captain, Nam Woung Hi is 31 years old, and took up a holding role behind the back four. The rest of the players, with two exceptions were under 23 years of age. Clearly the hope for the players is that this experience will see them in good stead, and they will join clubs in their homeland later. For the league, the hope was to mobilise support from the local Korean community, but there is little sign that this has been achieved.

As for the match, the first half was a non-event. Despite the disparity of league positions, there was little to choose between the teams, and when either came even close to a shooting position, it seemed there was a desire to boot the ball high and wide. Tampines started the second half with two substitutions and a renewed impetus, but as they continued to miss the target, this soon run out, allowing Korean Super Reds a chance, if only they could find the target. It was not until 82 minutes that the deadlock was broken, when Tampines’ Brazilian striker Peres de Oliveira found space, and although his shot came off the post, Singaporean national striker Noh Alam Shah was on hand for the rebound. KSR pushed forward, Nam Woung Hi moving to a more advanced position. This could have had consequences, as two crosses should have produced a second goal for Tampines, but then paid off in the 89th minute when a rash tackle gave away a penalty. Jeon Hyojoon’s penalty came off the post, and the ball was half cleared to the right wing. From there it was crossed back for Jeon Hyojoon to level the scores with a header. Three minutes of added time did not add to the scores, so Korean Super Reds picked up just their fifth point in 16 games.

After the game, there was hardly a stop in the travelling. The local metro takes me towards town, and a short walk to a bus departure point. After a short wait, I am on the midnight bus to Kuala Lumpur. After a short stop at customs about 40 minutes later, the driver carried on up the motorways, reaching the Malay capital before 6 am. I manage to sleep on the bus, except for a few times when my friend Steve, who had met me at Singapore Airport before the game, nudges me because my snoring is keeping him awake. Steve has not got the required visa for my next game, so he is going to go to one of the Group C games in KL. We get a taxi to where he is going to stay, it is 6.30 in the morning, but the night porter says Steve cannot check in until 8. By 8 O’clock, I have taken the monorail from the hotel to the Sentral (Malay spelling) Station, and am on a bus to the airport. With about a 20 minute delay, it is just a fraction less than 24 hours since I have left Vietnam, when I leave Malaysia bound for Palembang in Indonesia.