On paper it was meant to be a friendly tournament involving the Singapore Masters, Liverpool Masters and Arsenal Masters, but old rivalries and club pride meant that no quarter was given as the teams competed during Battle of the Masters at the National Stadium on Saturday.
The round-robin tournament consisted of three 40-minute games of 20-minute halves each.
Singapore Masters' Aleksandar Duric (left) in action with Arsenal Masters' Mikael Silvestre. Photo: Sport Singapore
In the first game, Singapore Masters took on Arsenal Masters. With four members from the legendary “Invincibles” team; captain Robert Pires, Lauren, Gilberto Silva and Kwankwo Kanu, the Arsenal Masters made things difficult for the Singapore Masters from the first whistle.
Yet the Singaporeans, with their ranks filled by members of the the fabled Malaysia Cup winning “Dream Team” of ’94 and several Suzuki Cup stalwarts, held their own entering half time nil-nil with Arsenal Masters’ Silva and Ian Selley both hitting the crossbar.
The Londoners broke the deadlock in the second half with a goal from Robert Pires, but the evergreen Aleksandar Duric equalised for the match to end in a one all draw.
The second match between Liverpool Masters and Singapore Masters threatened another Lions upset, with Rezal Hassan brilliant in goal, meant the hosts went into half time with a clean sheet.
However, after the break, the visibly tiring Lions were taken apart, first by a Steven McManaman goal in the first minute of the second half and then four other quick goals including one by Liverpool goalkeeper David James who ran the length of the pitch to take a penalty.
Liverpool Masters' Jan Kromkamp (left) taking on Singapore Masters' Fandi Ahmad. Photo: Sport Singapore
It was left to the final match between Arsenal Masters and Liverpool Masters to see who would be crowned the winner.
Arsenal’s Robert Pires opened the scoring in the fifth minute, receiving a pass from Omer Riza, who bamboozled the Liverpool defence with some fancy footwork before slipping a pass to his captain to finish.
But Liverpool would not be denied as goals from Emile Heskey and David Thompson edged the Merseyside team ahead going into half time.
In the second half, Pires again proved clinical as he finished another Omer Riza assist in the 39th minute, setting up an explosive final two minutes which saw Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler and Arsenal’s Lauren getting into a heated exchange.
However in the end, the Liverpool team held on for the draw to win Battle of the Masters.
Liverpool Masters' Robbie Fowler (right) celebrating with Phil Babb. Photo: Sport Singapore
“It’s good to be here. We have stuck together over the years; we’re very, very close, and I think it shows on the pitch,” said Fowler at the post tournament press conference.
“We knew quickly where we all were, and we’ve still got that edge where we want to win – even when things aren’t going our way. It’s good to be over here, it always is, and it always will be,” continued the Liverpool legend.