Vietnam U21 v Singapore U21, Sunday 5th June 2016, 4.45pm

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I have to work Saturdays in my new job, although I’ve plans to change that. One of the drawbacks is that it tends to prevent us from going away for the weekend, unless it’s to somewhere close by. Fortunately Melaka is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive away from where we live and so we decided to spend a Saturday night there.

It was dark by the time we arrived and so there wasn’t much to see until the next morning. After breakfast we had a walk along the side of a river from our hotel to the main tourist area at Jonker Street.

That part of Melaka is a picturesque enough place, with a lot of multi-coloured buildings dating back to when the Portuguese were running the show. Jonker Street was busy, mainly with coachloads of Chinese tourists who all seemed determined to eat in the same café. Whilst the main street was bustling, all you had to do for some peace and quiet was to make your way one street back and if it wasn’t for the noise in the background you wouldn’t know that there was anyone around.

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It was a fair drive to the Hang Jebat Stadium on the outskirts of the city and as we had plenty of time in hand I called into a barbers. He did a decent job with the haircut before getting carried away with a head massage. I’m not sure heads ever need massaging and I’m certain that they don’t need the sort of massage that consists of violent slaps. As the barber had access to a cut-throat razor I just smiled politely as my brain rattled around in its cerebrospinal fluid.

We arrived at the Hang Jebat Stadium to find that it was as quiet as the areas off Jonker Street and it was apparent that the U21 Nations Cup hadn’t captured the public’s imagination. Cant see why, surely a double header featuring the youngsters from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore was just the way to spend a Sunday evening?

I suppose it’s possible that everyone was staying away until the later game featuring the host country, but as we waited outside until ten minutes before kick-off in the first match it looked as if the crowd for the first game of the day might not reach double figures.

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We bought the posh twenty ringgit tickets that entitled us to a seat in the main stand and were quite a good deal at three quid, especially when you consider that we could have stayed for the second game too.

We also bought a yellow and black stripey Malaysia shirt for our grandson, Harry. It was less than a couple of quid, which is roughly the amount of change that you get from forty pounds when buying a Boro shirt  for a five-year old at the Riverside Stadium shop.

The ticket temporarily seemed less of a bargain when the stewards directed us into the section of open terracing behind the goal, but we eventually ended up in the upper tier of the main stand where we were able to find some shade.

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As the game kicked-off the crowd had swelled to about thirty, with just a couple of other people sharing our section. As the stadium has a capacity of over forty thousand that left plenty of room for stretching out.

Vietnam were in red, with Singapore in blue. Not a lot happened for most of the first half and whilst I like to think that I can appreciate teams keeping possession, it was all a bit tippy-tappy.

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Singapore took the lead just before half-time when a cross from the right was headed home from close range. There were some muted cheers from the section below us, suggesting that there might be some fans from Singapore in the ground. Although it’s probably more likely that it was one of the forty or so photographers and cameramen in attendance, grateful for something worth capturing.

When you added in the presence of the riot police, it did seem as if somebody, somewhere, had thought the Nations Cup to be an event that might just have been more popular than it turned out to be.

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Singapore increased their lead five minutes into the second half when a bit of skullduggery in a crowded box led to a penalty. It was slammed into the roof of the net, prompting  some chants of “Singer-pore, Singer-pore” from what sounded like six-year-old kids in the tier below.

Vietnam had a player who didn’t look much older than those fans. Maybe their kitman should have scoured the stalls outside for a two quid knock-off kit in the right size.

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A few minutes later we had a penalty at the other end and Vietnam pulled a goal back. This signaled the start of some impressive play-acting from Singapore to try to run down the clock. If ever there was an opportunity for the riot police to use their water cannon, then this was it.

It looked as though the time-wasting had been successful as Singapore were still in front as we started to make our way out on ninety minutes. I heard the shouts from the players and looked back to see Vietnam celebrating their equaliser.

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I wasn’t sure if they would play extra time or go straight to penalties, but either way I needed to be making tracks up the road. It’s busy on a Sunday evening, with people returning to Kuala Lumpur. I checked later and it turned out that the game went straight to penalties, although I can’t remember who won. Nor I suspect will anyone else.

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