SINGAPORE – Over 10,000 kilometres across the globe, it is 10.54 pm in Wembley Stadium in London and Bukayo Saka is about to take his spot kick in the penalty shoot-out of the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy on Sunday (July 12).
It is close to 6am in Punggol, Singapore where life-long England fan Navin Nambiar has his fists clenched in prayer. Over at Telok Blangah, there is dead silence among Muhammad Rudi and his two Azzurri-supporting friends.
The air is thick with tension as Saka’s kick is England’s fifth, and a do-or-die mission to keep their trophy hopes alive.
But his effort is palmed away by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, drawing screams and shouts of delirium, or despair, from fans all around the world.
And as England’s players collapse onto the pitch, their distress is echoed by Nambiar’s in his living room in north-eastern Singapore.
Rudi only finds out Italy has won when loud cheers erupt in his Telok Blangah home as he has retreated to his room earlier, too anxious to watch the shoot-out on TV.
“I was too nervous and couldn’t watch it anymore. Especially because I am a Manchester United fan and after Marcus Rashford missed his penalty, I felt bad but at the same time, I really wanted Italy to win,” said the 29-year-old.
“When my friends started cheering loudly, I knew we won and then I came out again and we were all jumping together.”
Lee Chern San, an Italy football fan since 1990 and a member of the Singapore Azzurri Supporters group – which boasts 144 supporters here – said that the Italians’ second European championship triumph will be one to remember not only for their success on the pitch, but the unique situation for fans.
Pre-pandemic, the group watched games at Muddy Murphy’s Irish Pub at Boat Quay, but they were not about to do so this time owing to safety measures. Instead, Lee, 43, a sales account manager, watched the final with five friends at one of their homes in Punggol.
He said: “It’s a surreal experience for sure. When Italy equalised, all of us erupted with screams and the host had to tell us to tone it down a little because we might wake the neighbours up.
“At a time like this, I do feel blessed to be able to in the company of these people and watch the team we support win a major championship. Of course, I wish that I could have watched the final with a bigger group like we usually did but this has been special enough for me.”
For Navin, the experience of heartbreak is not one that he will forget any time soon.
An adjunct lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic, the 40-year-old watched the game with his wife, while his two children aged four and five joined them later for the shoot-out.
He said: “Supporting England from home with just my own family is a new experience because ever since I was young, I am used to watching England matches with my extended family, including my brother, aunts, uncles and cousins. This is the first-ever final that I’ve see England in. It was nerve-racking.”
And the Three Lions certainly delivered a roller-coaster morning for Navin and England fans everywhere, as Luke Shaw scored the opening goal in the second minute before the equaliser arrived in the 67th minute via Leonardo Bonucci.
“When England score, I will run around the house crazily but a part of me just felt like this was perhaps not the best thing because I knew England would just sit back after that,” he said.
A feeling of inevitability sank in as the match inched towards a penalty shoot-out, as he added: “During a shootout, I would whip out my phone and start recording. But here I was all sweaty from being really nervous. We came so close but it just wasn’t enough.”
Die-hard England fan James Walton, the sports business group leader for Deloitte South-east Asia, watched the match at home due to the late kick-off. Despite the defeat, the Briton said that he was incredibly proud of the team.
He added: “I feel that this tournament is almost like a watershed moment. To have reached the final was great and it does bode well for the future because the squad is so young.
“This team have done great things off the pitch as well and brought people together in a country, especially with all the things with the pandemic in the last year. It’s been an unforgettable journey.”
• Additional reporting by Clarence Yeo and Zachary Tham
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