SINGAPORE, - Even Liverpool's normally impassive manager Rafa Benitez could not fail to be moved by the adulation and adoration of the club's local fans during a boat ride along the Singapore River on Saturday. Benitez, who started the cruise inside the boat politely acknowledging fans through the window, ended up standing at the bow smiling and waving as enthusiastic fans cheered his name, sang songs and waved banners written in his honour. The Spaniard, whose team are in the city-state for Sunday's friendly against Singapore, stayed outside the boat's sheltered comfort for about 15 minutes despite the crippling heat. He was joined by former Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish, who has recently returned to the Premier League club as an ambassador and director of the youth academy. Other ex-Liverppol players in attendance were Sammy Lee, assistant coach to Benitez, and Steve McMahon, whose company the Profitable Group was responsible for bringing the 18-time English champions to Singapore for the second time in 10 years. In another boat, carrying most of the players, goalkeeper Pepe Reina was the main livewire, engaging in good-natured banter with the hundreds of fans that thronged the riverbank. When one supporter exhorted him to win the league title, which the club has not done since 1990, the Spanish goalkeeper replied: "Jump into the water and we'll do it for you!" However, not all the players were as enthusiastic as Reina. Spain striker Fernando Torres, the obvious crowd favourite, waved politely several times but mostly stayed inside. MORE ELUSIVE Other players were even more elusive, such as pony-tailed Andriy Voronin, recently returned from a season-long loan spell at Hertha Berlin, who kept his headphones over his ears. Liverpool, Premier League runners-up last season, are in Asia for a two-match tour of Thailand and Singapore. They drew 1-1 with Thailand's national side on Wednesday. The boat ride was part of the team's promotional events that have seen the players showing up at the country's many suburban shopping malls, signing autographs and holding clinics. The team was divided into three vessels, decked with banners proclaiming "The Kop Comes to Asia", which sailed down the Singapore River into the heart of the city. They meandered through the Central Business District, past entertainment centres Boat and Clarke Quay and the Esplanade. However, the man most Liverpool fans wanted to see - captain and inspiration Steven Gerrard - was absent due to a court case for affray. He was acquitted in Liverpool on Friday. "I'm sorry for the fans that he can't come. We have to protect the player and the best thing for him to do is to rest at home," Benitez had told an earlier news conference. Hundreds of fans lined the riverbank, dressed in the club's famous red shirts and waving banners professing loyalty to the Merseyside team and lauding their achievements. Some supporters ran along the two km stretch of the river screaming at their favourite players. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in the flesh and to get this close," gushed secretary Stacey Lee, 22. "And they even responded to me when I called out their names."
25 July 2009
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