Causeway Challenge: High stakes in crunch tie

The Lions have been preparing for a battle of pride with Malaysia on Friday, Oct 7 at the National Stadium. PHOTO: FAS

HIRMAN SOMAS 

THERE HAVE been arguments over the price of water, a dispute over Pedra Branca, a rock off the east coast of Johor, and even sovereign claims made over local cuisine the likes of chilli crab and chicken rice.

The Singapore-Malaysia rivalry is one that is rooted in history, one that started even before separation and the independence of Singapore in 1965.

And in football, that rivalry is fierce.

But ahead of Friday’s Causeway Challenge, where V Sundramoorthy’s Lions host their Malaysian counterparts at the Singapore Sports Hub’s National Stadium, a strange camaraderie has been formed between football fraternities on either side of the Causeway.

Singapore and Malaysia are — for once — in agreement, that the sport in their respective countries has sunk to an all-time low. And, bizarrely, there are those who hope to see their countrymen flop at the National Stadium.

In Malaysia, a club-versus-country debate has long been raging, mostly fuelled by Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and the state’s Crown Prince, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim.

Four JDT players — Aidil Zafuan, S Kunanlan and Amirulhadi Zainal and even skipper Safiq Rahim — quit the Malaysian national team earlier this year, with JDT recalling three of its players from the Tigers’ training camp just last week.

Tunku Ismail has criticised the methods of the national team, but the move seems to stem from a distrust of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM). Earlier this year, Tunku Ismail claimed he was in possession of evidence of corrupt practices and illegal activities in the FAM, with calls from several quarters ringing out for an overhaul of the organisation.

Some in Malaysia are sharpening their knives for the FAM in anticipation of a loss to Singapore on Friday, and the situation is somewhat similar south of the Causeway.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) has been made by world football governing body Fifa to institute an election of its leadership and it has seen the fraternity here come alive, and start to hurl mud at the FAS.

From poor youth development pipelines, to atrocious management of grassroots football and a professional league that has been allowed to deteriorate, the criticism of the FAS’ running of the sport in Singapore has picked up speed in recent months.

Various camps have formed, and campaigning has already begun for some, even though constitutional changes that would allow for elections have not even been implemented yet.

There have been police reports filed, accusations hurled over social media, and just about any news on the sport has been turned around, converted to ammunition to be fired at the FAS.

And there are several just waiting to use the failure of the Lions at the National Stadium in the same way.

But this presents a unique situation that could well set the match up in the best way possible for the neutrals.

Yes, there are battles being waged in football on both sides of the Causeway. Yes, the in-fighting has seen some wish ill on their own countrymen. But these are battles fought outside of the pitch, and the waging of such battles will see both teams adopt a siege-mentality, one that shuts out everyone except the men who don the shirt, and their generals patrolling the sidelines.

This match will see pride come to the fore, and players battling for each other —because they can’t quite tell who is on their side.

For those 90 minutes there will be no discussion on the price of water, no arguments about who invented chilli crab or chicken rice. There will be no talk about the dirty politics surrounding the sport on either side of the Causeway, besides maybe a knowing smile and a shrug.

It will be about 22 men looking to play the game as best they can.

And it will be fun to watch.

CAUSEWAY CHALLENGE MATCH DETAILS 

Teams: Singapore v Malaysia

When: Friday, Oct 7

Kick-off: 8.30pm

Where: Sports Hub National Stadium

Tickets: Sports Hub Tix