Month-long fiesta reaches finale as S’pore fans pack venues, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Month-long fiesta reaches finale as S’pore fans pack venues

SINGAPORE – From the heartlands of Tampines to the heart of the city at Chijmes, football fans gathered in stadiums, lawns, coffee shops and bars on Sunday night to soak in the biggest football festival in four years.

After numerous late nights – and early mornings – which left football-mad Singaporeans bleary-eyed after 63 games over the month-long tournament, they were not about to miss out on the 64th: A blockbuster clash between the Lionel Messi-led Argentina and defending champions France.

This was the first major football tournament held during the pandemic without any restrictions on crowd numbers here, and Singaporeans were not about to let the opportunity pass. A snaking queue emerged at Our Tampines Hub two hours before kick-off, as a crowd of at least 4,000 fans armed with inflatable clappers packed into the stadium to watch the match on three large screens, while another 800 fans caught the action at the Festive Plaza.

For one night only, Singaporeans adopted a new football son – Messi – basking in his glory and goals, with the loudest cheers of the night at Tampines reserved for the Argentinian legend.

Aayush Bhatia, a full-time national serviceman, was a bundle of nerves in the opening minutes of the game, leaping out of his seat each time Argentina poured forward. In the 23rd minute, when Messi gave La Albiceleste the lead from the penalty spot, pandemonium broke out in Tampines, with the noise further amplified when Angel di Maria extended the lead in the 36th minute.

Aayush said: “Messi is my hero and I really want him to win it. Argentina have to win, for Messi.”

While fans decked out in Argentina’s blue-and-white colours were the majority at Tampines, they gave the venue a uniquely Singaporean feel as the Kallang wave rippled though the crowd at the stadium.

Argentina fans celebrating after the team scores as they watch the live screening at Our Tampines Hub, on Dec 18, 2022. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Over at the Sports Hub, Taiwanese singer Jay Chou was not the only headline act at the Kallang venue with another well-attended event at the OCBC Square, as 750 fans decked out in the colours of Argentina and France packed into two viewing zones, with some leaning on barricades as they craned their necks for a better view of the action.

Football freestyler and coach Terence Ong, 37, said: “It’s inspiring and motivating to see everyone out here, even though it’s not for our country. Everyone likes football so hopefully Singapore players will get the same support soon.”

Patrick Tan, 38, was there with his two sons, seven-year old Anson and five-year-old Ethan.

Tan said: “At home, the television is only on when football matches are being played. We have subscribed to the World Cup package at home but we wanted to have a special experience to remember our first World Cup final together.

“The boys have been chatting non-stop about it all week and it is excellent to see so many fans here. Maybe one day, we will be cheering for Singapore in a match like this. ”

It was another sold-out spectacle at Chijmes, where a sea of fervent French supporters flooded The Lawn, which saw a crowd of about 3,000 fans.

French fans dressed in tri-colour wigs quickly got into a heated cheer-off with a small group of Argentinian supporters.

Screams of “Messi, Messi, Messi!” were quickly drowned out by passionate, incessant chants of “Allez Les Bleus!”, kept up by the French faithful as the match wore on.

France fans singing the French national anthem as they watch the screening of the World Cup final match at Chijmes, on Dec 18, 2022. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

All around Singapore, from the city to Hougang, Clementi to Tampines, fans were kept riveted to the football drama playing out on their screens.

And as the nail-biting action continued into the wee hours of Monday after a 2-2 draw in regulation time and 3-3 in extra tim, before Argentina gave Messi his fairy-tale ending with a 4-2 victory on penaties, Singapore fans 6,200km away from Doha could not have asked for a better end to a tournament that has delivered plenty of football thrills and spills.

Maheswaran Selvathurai, 23, who caught the action at Tampines, said the game was the best football final he has ever seen. He added: “ I came to watch Argentina and Messi win the final but I got a lot more than that. I think most fans here will agree with me that this was a perfect match. It had everything.”

Ansh Goel, 16 , who was at Chijmes said: “It’s an amazing feeling! Now for sure we can say Messi is the GOAT. The debate is over.”

As French fans shook their heads in disbelief, Frenchman Marwan Syed, 28, said that “it doesn’t matter because we won the last time”.

He added: “We will try again at Mexico, USA and Canada in four years time. This time we let Messi have it. I think Mbappe had a world class tournament and he’s up there with the world’s best. I just hope he can carry his form into 2026.”