SINGAPORE — Singapore’s President Tharman Shanmugaratnam was at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday (Sept 20) to witness the AFC Champions League match between Singapore Premier League club Lion City Sailors and a club from Thailand, Bangkok United. The Sailors are Singapore’s only representatives in this year’s AFC Champions League and they are drawn in Group F alongside Bangkok United, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors from South Korea and Hong Kong’s Kitchee FC.

Mr Tharman, the newly elected ninth President of the Republic, also took the opportunity to spend time with the young Tasek Sailors, several of them selected to be the ballboys and ballgirls for the match. President Tharman mentioned on his official Facebook page that he was pleased to see a healthy crowd of about 3,000 at the stadium to support the Sailors in their opening Asian Champions League match.

President Tharman who posted a photo of himself seated with the young Tasek Sailors at the stadium, said, “’Unleash the Roar!’ will groom a new generation of footballers in Singapore. Starting from the primary and early secondary school years. We must and can bring Singapore football back up.

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Photo credit: Lim Sin Thai (MCI)

Tasek Sailors are the product of a collaboration between the Lion City Sailors and the Tasek Football Academy earlier this year. The aim is to help uplift disadvantaged youth and develop them holistically. Tasek Sailors will combine professional football coaching and structured mentorship. The programme was officially launched during the inaugural Tasek Sailors Charity Football Fundraiser in June with Mr Tharman, then a Senior Minister, as the guest of honour.

President Tharman said about the Lion City Sailors’ match against Bangkok United: “LCS is the only Singapore team in the tournament, which pits the top clubs from across Asia against each other. Both teams put up a determined display. LCS unfortunately went down 2:1 after leading in the first half.” 

Although the Sailors lost the match 2-1 to Bangkok United, their coach Aleksander Ranko felt that his players did not deserve the result as they put in a good performance against a more experienced team.

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The Sailors took a one-goal lead at half-time courtesy of a Diego Lopes goal in the 25th minute. But the hosts were not able to add to their lead in the second half, and the visitors levelled the score through captain Everton in the 51st minute. Bangkok United found the winning goal 11 minutes later as Thai national team player Thitiphan Puangchan unleashed a rocket to the top right-hand corner that left Sailors goalkeeper Zharfan Rohaizad rooted to the ground.

The Sailors will be playing their next two AFC Champions League matches away from home. They will first travel to Hong Kong to face Kitchee on Oct 4, before taking on Jeonbuk Motors in South Korea on Oct 25.

Another Singapore Premier League club,Hougang United are also competing in a regional competition, but in the second-tier club tournament AFC Cup. They are in Group H, with Hai Phong (Vietnam), PSM Makassar (Indonesia), and Sabah from Malaysia.

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Hougang played their first match on Sep 21 and lost 3-1 against Sabah at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu. Gabriel Peres opened the scoring for Sabah in the fifth minute before Darren Lok added a second goal for the hosts in the 38th minute. Kazuma Takayama reduced the deficit for Hougang in the 61st minute but Look restored Sabah’s two-goal lead two minutes later. Hougang’s next AFC Cup will be against Hai Phong on Oct 5 before travelling to Indonesia on Oct 25 to face Makassar.