Tampines Rovers got their 2017 AFC Cup campaign off to a winning start when they accounted for Malaysian Super League outfit, Felda United, 2-1 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night.
It was just as well they did as there’s going to be tougher AFC Cup games than this to contend with in the weeks ahead, with two consecutive away matches to play in the Philippines and Vietnam respectively.
There’s at least some breathing space after this coming Sunday night’s Community Shield game against reigning champions Albirex Niigata (Singapore) before the discrete AFC Cup squad heads off to foreign lands.
On opening night, in front of an encouraging crowd of almost 1,300 fans, the Stags virtually controlled the game from the opening whistle, although the scoreline might not reflect the relative comfort of the win.
“I felt we were always going to win it,” said coach Herman Zailani, standing in for an indisposed head coach Jurgen Raab.
“Even when we conceded a late goal I wasn’t too concerned,” he insisted.
Be that as it may, Tampines Rovers would probably have preferred to maintain a clean sheet and establish more than this slender one-goal advantage from their opening home encounter.
There were plenty of positives to be taken from the game, against an opponent undergoing some turmoil off the field and whose own start to their domestic season has been less than ideal.
The Stags had the luxury of Singapore internationals Khairul Amri, Hafiz Rahim and Sahil Suhaimi warming the bench and it was the second goal, put away effortlessly by star striker, Amri, that ensured ultimate victory.
A late consolation from Felda would not have pleased either Raab or his players, who dropped their focus enough to give the Malaysian side a sniff at snatching a valuable point.
The team has a decidedly new look about it and it’s clear that it’s obviously still settling down.
Two of the players registered for this AFC competition only, can’t play in Sunday’s opening S.League fixture that doubles as the annual Community Shield.
One of those newcomers, Raspreet Sandhu, impressed enormously and it was his expert cross that led to 25 year old Korean Son Yong Chan opening the scoring just over an hour into the game.
Those two players looked the part, as did Japanese forward, Ryutaro Megumi, whose cross set up Amri’s goal seven minutes from the end.
With both the Korean and Japanese starlets free to play on Sunday hopes are high that the new season can begin in style against an imposing Albirex Niigata (S).
Sahil and Raspreet are only participating in the AFC Cup at this stage, but either, or both, could feature in the local league if they are able to demonstrate consistency and offer the team something special.
Sahil only had ten minutes to show his wares, so he’ll be looking for more game-time in the matches coming up against Ceres Negros and Hanoi FC.
Son, a very worthy Man of the Match and not only for his superbly-taken opening goal, but for his all-round midfield supremacy, joined the Stags from Ceres and has mixed feelings about meeting his former club so soon after leaving them.
“I can show them what I can do with my new team,” he observed at the post-match press conference. “I’ll aim to show them what they’re missing!”
Albirex will provide a tougher challenge than Felda did, but the confidence gained from this opening AFC Cup fixture should ensure that the Stags are in the right frame of mind to face the boys from Jurong East.
Sunday’s game is becoming more tantalising with each passing day.
Click on the following link to view the Post-match Press Conference Video
Starting XI: Izwan Mahbud, Ismadi Mukhtar, Mustafic Fahrudin, Daniel Bennett, Madhu Mohana, Son Yong Chan, Ryutaro Megumi, Raspreet Sandhu, Yasir Hanapi, Ivan Dzoni, Irwan Shah
Substitutes: Jufri Taha, Syed Haziq, Khairul Amri, Hafiz Rahim, Farhan Rahmat, Joey Sim, Sahil Suhaimi
Yellow Cards: Izwan Mahbud (93’)
Goals: Son Yong Chan (64’), Khairul Amri (83’)
70’ Ivan Dzoni OUT, Khairul Amri IN
75’ Yasir Hanapi OUT, Hafiz Rahim IN
84’ Raspreet Sandhu OUT, Sahil Suhaimi IN
Head Coach: Juergen Raab
Starting XI: Nor Fazly Alias, Mootaz Jounaidi, Lucas Cano, Zah Krangar, Shukor Adan, Stuart Wark, Aizulridzwan Razali, Hasnizaidi Jamian, Hadin, Ridzuan Pula, Farizal Harun
Substitutes: Kalamullah Rowi, Khairul Ismail, Fakrul Aiman, Fazrul Hazli, Syahid Zaidon, Gaston Cellerino, Alif Yusof
Yellow Cards: Ridzuan Pula (39’), Farizal Harun (40’)
Goals: Fazrul Hazli (87’)
68’ Ridzuan Pula OUT, Gaston Cellerino IN
81’ Radin OUT, Fazrul Hazli IN
Head Coach: Mohd Nik