Category: Match Report

Stags dig deep to defeat gutsy Tigers

Tampines Rovers stayed on course to finish as runners-up in the 2016 Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Balestier Khalsa at Jurong West Stadium on Saturday night.

The Stags now sit in second place in the league table with 43 points, one more than third-placed Brunei DPMM and can seal the spot if they beat newly-crowned S.League champions Albirex Niigata (S) in their final game of the season next week.

It was the visitors who started the first-half strongly, registering their first attempt on goal eight minutes into the game. Fadhil Noh slipped an excellent ball to Hazzuwan Halim, but the latter failed to find the back of the net.

The early scare shook Tampines into action as Izzdin Shafiq tried to break the deadlock in the 10th minute with a 30-yard strike, but his attempt failed to trouble Tigers custodian Zaiful Nizam.

Billy Mehmet was next to try his luck three minutes later as his volley from an Ismadi Mukhtar’s cross looked destined for the back of the net, only for Zaiful to parry it onto the woodwork.

Marko Kraljevic’s charges limited the Stags to taking potshots from distance as they executed their game-plan of sitting back, soaking up the pressure and counter-attacking to perfection.

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas then issued a tactical change as half-time loomed, switching Jermaine Pennant, who began the game in the centre of midfield, to the right-flank and his decision paid off on 39 minutes.

A cross from Pennant into the box was flicked on by Jordan Webb into the path of Shakir Hamzah, who timed his run perfectly and volleyed home from an acute angle to break the deadlock for the hosts.

The Tigers came out after the interval determined to salvage a point from the match, and fashioned a couple of decent chances to score.

A penetrating run into the box by Niko Tokic on 58 minutes drew both Stags custodian Izwan Mahbud and Juri Taha towards him, creating space for Fadhil Noh in the centre of the 18-yard box. However, Fadhil sent his effort wide of the mark.

As the visitors pressed forward in search of an equaliser in stoppage time, the Stags found more space in the final third and duly punished the Tigers.

A through ball from Pennant sent Mehmet on goal and the striker sealed the win for Tampines by rounding Zaiful with his first touch and slotting the ball into an empty net.


Stags back to winning ways

Despite conceding the Great Eastern-Yeo’s S.League title to Albirex Niigata (S), Tampines Rovers did not let it dampen their spirit as they cruised to a 3-1 win over Garena Young Lions at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.

Although Billy Mehmet’s opener in the 54th minute was cancelled out by the Young Lions’ Ryan Syafiqq four minutes later, Yasir Hanapi restored the Stags lead in the 61st minute and Jordan Webb netted his team’s third goal in the 77th minute.

The win saw Tampines leapfrogged Brunei DPMM to second in the league table with 43 points. DPMM is two points behind Akbar Nawaz charges and having played a game more.

The Stags came into this match on the back of a 1-0 defeat to DPMM and they were determined to return to winning ways. But it was the Young Lions that impressed in the first half, keeping the more experienced opponents at bay with their astute defending.

Patrick Hesse’s team almost took the lead in the sixth minute when Khairul Amri picked up a loose ball in his the final third, but his effort went inches off the mark.

It was Tampines who was left frustrated a minute later as Young Lions’ custodian Fashah Iskandar comfortably gathered Mehmet’s shot.

The second half saw Akbar introducing former Arsenal and Liverpool player Jermaine Pennant into the match and midfielder did well to exert his influence in the middle of the park.

The Stags did not wait long after the break to open the scoring when Mehmet connected well with Yasir’s pass into the danger area to blast the ball past Fashah in the 54th minute.

But the lead did not last long as the Young Lions restored parity three minutes later. Hami Syahin twinkled past his markers before laying the ball across goal, although Joshua Pereira’s shot was blocked by Fahrudin Mustafic, Ryan reacted the quickest to the loose ball to level the score.

There was little time to celebrate for the home fans though as Tampines regained the lead four minutes later. Pennant sent a long ball from the middle of the field for Mehmet in the box who knocked down the ball for Yasir who slammed home the ball to the bottom corner from 20-yard.

Pennant and Mehmet then fashioned their chances with two long-range efforts – Pennant’s effort hit the crossbar, while Mehmet forced out an outstretched save from Fashah.

The Stags was duly rewarded with a third goal in the 76th minute. Webb played a clever one-two touch with Mehmet, before chipping the ball past Fashah and into the bottom left corner.

Despite trailing by two goals, the Young Lions did not slow down their game and were still looking for ways to reduce the deficit in the final stages of the match.

Firdaus Kasman tested Izwan from 25-yards, but his thumping shot was comfortably met by the Singapore international who gripped firmly onto the ball and the referee blew the final whistle shortly after.

Tampines Rovers head coach Akbar Nawas: “I am pleased with the result and performance as I am preparing the team for the RHB Singapore Cup final this October and that is why I had a new formation in the first-half before switching to a different formation in the second-half.

“While we want to finish second place, I thought why not do something about the team when we have a Cup final to play for.

“Winning and scoring is good for the team and good for their confidence, as there will a psychological battle to still make them play until Cup final.”


Wasps deal a blow to Stags title hopes

Tampines Rovers failed to close the gap with Albirex Niigata (S) at the top of the Great Eastern-Yeo’s S.League table after they suffered a 1-0 loss to defending champions Brunei DPMM at the Jurong West Stadium on Saturday night.

Azwan Ali scored the all important goal to seal three points for Steve Kean charges and the win saw the Wasps leapfrogged the Stags to second-spot in the standings with 41 points.

Tampines dropped a spot to third position, a point behind DPMM but with two game in hands compared to the Brunei outfit.

DPMM started the match with an attacking mentality and took the lead just four minutes into the match. Rafael Ramazotti’s low driven ball across goal found Azwan in the penalty box and the latter connected with the ball to send it past the hapless Izwan Mahbud.

Down by a goal early in the match, Tampines restarted the game offensively and they almost came close to an equaliser twice soon after.

First, Jordan Webb’s attempt on goal was well saved by the Wasps’ custodian Wardun Yussoff. Former Liverpool and Arsenal player Jermaine Pennant then tried his luck from distance but his stinging shot flew inches off the target.

With Akbar Nawas’ charges pouring forward in numbers, the visitors deployed most of their players in their own half to defend their lead and were restricted to pumping the ball upfield towards lone striker Ramazotti and relying on the counter-attacks.

Before the half-time interval, DPMM were awarded a freekick in the near the penalty box but Paulo Sergio’s effort were deflected off the Tampines’ wall.

Tampines continue to dominate proceedings after the interval but they were either met with a resolute DPMM defence or were denied by the bar. Yasir Hanapi was left frustrated in the 60th minute as he was denied a goal by the crossbar.

But it was not all Stags as the Wasps went on a counter a minute later. It was a goalmouth scramble but the hosts were fortunate to came away unscathed.

Ramazotti’s effort was fisted away by Izwan but the loose ball fell to Hendra Azam, who took a crack on goal ball. Luckily for Tampines, Afiq Yunos was quick to react and headed the ball away to safety on the goal-line.

Although coach Akbar brought on experienced campaigners Fabian Kwok and Fahrudin Mustafic in the latter stages of the match in the hope of strengthening the midfield and to seek a way back in the match, DPMM held onto their lead to seal maximum points.

Tampines Rovers head coach Akbar Nawas: “We only have got ourselves to blame and we had kicked ourselves in the foot for not converting our chances.  We took things lightly, became complacent and made mistakes that we should not think we can get away from.

“In football, we don’t get that luxury all the time and it is unacceptable to pass the ball in the middle and get caught.

“We have trained on how to work on the ball and even from the very first minute of the game, I have asked the players to concentrate and focus right from the start.”


Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo

Tampines fall agonisingly short of historic AFC Cup semi-final

Tampines Rovers fell just short in their bid to make AFC Cup history, managing just a 0-0 draw in the second leg of their quarter-final against Indian side Bengaluru to crash out 1-0 on aggregate…
Tampines Rovers exited the AFC Cup at the quarter-final stage on Wednesday night after failing to overcome Bengaluru in a two-legged affair.
The Stags went down to Bengaluru 1-0 on aggregate after they could only muster a scoreless draw in the return leg at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Needing at least one goal to draw level, Tampines attacked relentlessly right from the opening whistle.
They nearly opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 11th minute after Hafiz Sujad won the ball in midfield and ran towards goal before letting fly from all of 25 yards. However, Bengaluru goalkeeper Amrinder Singh just managed to tip the ball over.
Tampines’ next chance came in the 22nd minute, as Yasir Hanapi met Irwan Shah’s cross in the box but from a tight angle he could only volley into the side-netting.

The hosts’ desire to seek a goal also left space at the back and it nearly resulted in Bengaluru scoring in the 38th minute but Eugeneson Lyngdoh just missed connecting with C.K Vineet’s cross.
Upon the restart, Tampines continued to knock on the door and Yasir’s shot flew just wide of the post after Jordan Webb had laid the ball on for him.

Just a minute later, Sunil Chhetri had a shot from outside the box but Izwan got down quickly to parry the ball away.
Tampines continued to toil for that all-important goal and it nearly came in the 74th minute after Yasir met Webb’s flick-on and went for goal but Amrinder was equal to the task.

Izwan was then called upon to keep Tampines in the game two minutes later as Lyngdoh raced through on goal but his toe-poke was kept out by Izwan.
With time running out, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas threw on Sufian Anuar for Yasir and piled the pressure on Bengaluru.
It nearly paid off two minutes from time when Pennant managed to release Irwan Shah but the defender’s shot could not beat Amrinder.
In the dying minutes of the game, Hafiz was picked out by Billy Mehmet but his tame shot failed to trouble Amrinder.
That would be Tampines’ final chance in the game as they fell short in their bid for a first ever trip to the continental tournament’s final four.


Photos: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo

Photo: Bengaluru FC

Tampines fall 1-0 to Bengaluru in AFC Cup first leg

The Stags had a woeful first half in India and looked sluggish, especially after conceding the lead to the hosts in just the seventh minute.
Sloppy defending allowed Sunil Chhetri to win possession and release Alwyn George. The latter failed to pull the trigger at point-blank range but CK Vineeth was in the right place to slot home the opener.

Bengaluru continued to cause Tampines all sorts of problem and were unlucky not to double their lead just after the half-hour mark, with Eugeneson Lyngdoh denied by Izwan Mahbud.
Nishu Kumar then saw his shot deflected just over the bar before Pennant sent a free-kick whistling over as half-time arrived.
Credit to Tampines, who came out battling after the break and came close to grabbing an equaliser in the 50th minute.

Webb found Hafiz Sujad with his cross from the right but the midfielder could not get the ball on target before Billy Mehmet sliced the loose ball just wide from close range.
Tampines came close again in the 71st minute when Yasir Hanapi found space just outside the box and tried to curl the ball past Amrinder Singh, but his effort was wide of the post.
Ten minutes from time, Chhetri was released by Alvaro Rubio but the former was thwarted by a decent save from Izwan.
The next leg will be played in Singapore, as Tampines attempt to overturn the one-goal deficit on September 21 at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Photos: Bengaluru


Stags overcome Ceres to clinch final berth of the RHB Singapore Cup.

Second leg of the semi-finals at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday night helped Tampines Rovers to overcome Philippines invitee Ceres La Salle 5-3 on aggregate and reach the 2016 RHB Singapore Cup final.

Tampines had won the first leg 2-1 three days ago, but Stephan Schrock levelled the score on aggregate via a first-half penalty.

Hafiz Sujad struck early in the second half to wrestle the initiative back for the Stags, but Ceres restored parity once again through Patrick Reichelt.

The match headed for extra time where goals from Afiq Yunos and Saifullah Akbar sealed the deal for Tampines, as they qualified for their first Singapore Cup since 2012.

It was a closely-fought first half where both sides struggled to find their rhythm, but Ceres would end it on top just before the break.

The referee had no hesitation to signal for a penalty after Afiq handled Manuel Ott’s close-range shot, with Schrock duly making no mistakes from the spot.

Tampines would level it up on the night and go 3-2 up on aggregate 12 minutes into the second half, with Hafiz firing home a first-time volley from 10 yards out after being teed up by Billy Mehmet.

However, Ceres refused to go away and levelled matters again in the 78th minute.

Reichelt reacted the quickest in the box to direct Jeffrey Christiaen’s inswinging cross from the right past the stranded Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to force extra-time.

Things, however, went pear-shaped for the Busmen as they would end regulation time one man down after Paul Mulders was sent off for a second bookable offence.

The reigning United Football League champions would further go down to nine men in extra time, as they had already used up the three substitutions when Reichelt was stretched off due to injury.

Tampines fully took advantage of the numerical disparity to go ahead 4-3 on aggregate in the 105th minute.

Afiq made amends for his part in the opening goal as he rose the highest in the area to nod home Irwan Shah’s teasing left-wing cross.

minutes later, with Canadian winger Jordan Webb taking out three defenders with a mazy run before unselfishly setting up substitute Saifullah Akbar to slot past Ceres custodian Louie Casas.

The goal sparked raucous celebrations from the Tampines bench and the three-time Singapore Cup champions would hold on to progress into the final, where they face either Balestier Khalsa or Albirex Niigata (S)

Ceres La Salle caretaker coach Ali Bernard: “We had a good tournament overall and we played a good game tonight. For me, I believe playing conservatively is not good.

“We showed everyone that we can play football and they did everything they could. But the incidents came and we got the cards. At 10 men, it’s difficult to play against a strong team like Tampines. At nine men, it was almost impossible.

“The winner was the crowd tonight; they were excellent and loud.”

Tampines Rovers head coach Akbar Nawas: “It’s an ecstatic feeling to reach the final. The way the players fought tonight, you cannot ask for more. Of course it (Ceres going down to nine men) helped us, but we still needed to be patient; to stretch them on the flanks to score the goals.

“Football is an emotional game and it is good that the team are having good emotions now. The final is still a few months away so I’m thinking about that yet.

“We have a S.League game against Home (United) on 10th September, before flying off to India two days later for our AFC Cup (quarter-final first leg) game (against Bengaluru). It’s going to be tough, so I’m taking one game at one time now.”

Ceres La Salle: Louie Casas (GK), Jason Sabio (Jalsor Soriano 91’), Kevin Ingreso, Kim Sang Min (C), Bienvenido Morejon, Manuel Ott (Arnie Jr. Pasinabo 75’), Stephan Schrock, Carlos Martinez (Jeffrey Christiaens 55’), Paul Mulders, Martin Steuble, Patrick Reichelt

Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK, C), Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Jermaine Pennant, Jordan Webb, Izzdin Shafiq, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Sujad, Irwan Shah, Sufian Anuar (Saifullah Akbar 106’), Billy Mehmet (Shafie Mulianto 114’)

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Tampines suffer S.League title setback as Hougang steal victory at the death

Tampines Rovers suffered a huge setback in their pursuit of the 2016 S.League title, after a shock 2-1 defeat to Hougang United at the Jurong West Stadium on Wednesday night.

The Stags would have leapfrogged Albirex Niigata (S) to go top with a win but were outplayed by a determined Hougang side.

Jordan Webb had cancelled Stipe Plazibat’s opener and the Stags looked good to collect a point, but Japanese playmaker Fumiya Kogure popped up with a winner deep into injury time to steal all three points for the visitors.

Buoyed by a stunning comeback victory against Home United the last time out, Hougang started off the better side with M. Anumanthan lashing just wide from range on eight minutes.

The Cheetahs continued to have the upper hand and went on to take a shock lead in the 22nd minute.

A defensive lapse by Tampines left-back Irwan Shah allowed Jozef Kaplan to sneak in behind him, before the latter squared across the six-yard box for Plazibat to tap home beyond the reach of an onrushing Izwan Mahbud.

Tampines recovered well after the setback, with Yasir Hanapi testing Hougang custodian Ridhuan Barudin well from 25 yards out, before Fazrul Nawaz headed just wide from Webb’s teasing right-wing cross.

The Stags duly levelled matters on the stroke of half-time as Webb rose the highest in the area to nod home Izzdin Shafiq’s free kick.

Akbar Nawas’ side tried to pick up where they left off after the restart, but were continually frustrated by the stout Hougang backline.

The visitors were content to hit on the counter, with one such move almost paying off on 62 minutes.

Plazibat surged forward after Izzdin lost possession and teed up Iqbal, whose shot was deflected onto the post by Jufri Taha. The loose ball fell to Kogure, who tried to wriggle free but was blocked off by Afiq Yunos.

Tampines then had the ball in the net four minutes later when Webb flicked on for Afiq to head in from close range, but the former was penalised for climbing over his marker.

The five-time champions then suffered a huge blow with striker Fazrul Nawaz coming off due to injury with 11 minutes to go and that handed the initiative to Hougang.

The Cheetahs retook the lead two minutes into injury time, with Kogure striding onto Iqbal Hussain’s long ball before firing low past the stranded Izwan for the match-winner.

To rub salt to the wound, Tampines forward Billy Mehmet was sent off after the final whistle as the Stags stay one point behind leaders Albirex.

Meanwhile Hougang went two places up, to third, after the crucial win.

Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Afiq Yunos, Irwan Shah (Shakir Hamzah 46′), Jordan Webb, Yasir Hanapi, Izzdin Shafiq, Hafiz Sujad, Fazrul Nawaz (Sufian Anuar 79′), Billy Mehmet

Hougang United: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Nazrul Nazari, Delwinder Singh, Raihan Rahman, Huzaifah Aziz, M. Anumanthan, Afiq Noor (Nurhilmi Jasni 88′), Jozef Kaplan (C), Fumiya Kogure, Stipe Plazibat, Iqbal Hussain

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Stags survive Warriors scare to keep title race alive

Tampines Rovers closed the gap between them and Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League leaders Albirex Niigata (S) to just a point following their nerve-wrecking 3-2 win over Warriors FC at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium on Friday night.

With the White Swans opening a four points lead at the summit after their win over Garena Young Lions a day earlier, the Stags could not afford to drop any points against Razif Onn’s charges.

With that in mind, the visitors came out with an attacking mindset as they took the lead within a minute of kick-off as a lofted ball found an unmarked Fazrul Nawaz on the right flank. With all the time and space in the world, the Singapore international was able to pick out Billy Mehmet who had the simplest of finishes with only the keeper to beat.

Following the opening goal, the Tampines seemed contented in soaking up the pressure from the Warriors and ultimately paid the price in the 23rd minute. An inswinging corner found an unmarked Jonathan Behe who powered home the equaliser.

Warriors were galvanized by Behe’s equaliser and took the lead in the 35th minute through Ridhuan Muhamad.

A spectacular double save by Yazid Yasin kept the score equal before the Warriors launched a quick counter attack via the right wing. Ridhuan unleashed an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner of Izwan Mahbud’s goal, giving Warriors the lead going into the break.

The Stags started the second half with more intent and nearly equalised in 53rd minute but Jonathan Webb’s goal was ruled offside much to the dismay of the away supporters.

Their pressure paid off in the 56th minute as Webb got to the end of a defence splitting pass and before rounding Warriors’ keeper Yazid to equalise.

Tampines restored their lead after Madhu Mohana was given his marching orders for receiving his second yellow of the night for a foul on Hafiz Sujad in the penalty box. Mehmet made no mistake from the penalty spot and wrong footed Yazid to make it 3-2 to the Stags.

Warriors FC head coach Razif Onn: “I think we should ask ourselves how we could have lost the game.We cannot afford to play 10 against 11 against Tampines, or Albirex. We certainly cannot do that against any of the top teams in the league but it happens and my players did not give up but rather they showed their fighting spirit.”

Tampines Rovers head coach Akbar Nawas: “After the first goal, we went to sleep for sure. After the first few Warriors attacks following the (our) opening goal, the signs were there, it was coming. We should have defended before they could enter their attacking third. We should have defended better in midfield.”

“We were lucky to get out of this situation with a 3-2 win. In the second half we put on a better show and at this stage of the season, who would choose seven goals over three points?”

Warriors FC: Yazid Yasin(GK), Zulfadli Zainal (C), Syaqir Sulaiman, Kento Fukuda, Madhu Mohana, Shaiful Esah, Poh Yi Feng, Nikola Rak, Hafiz Nor, Ridhuan Muhamad, Jonathan Behe (Hafiz Rahim 90’)

Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud(GK), Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic(C), Yasir Hanapi, Fazrul Nawaz, Jordan Webb, Izzdin Shafiq, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad (Shakir Hamzah 90’), Irwan Shah, Billy Mehmet

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Tampines hold off Geylang in ill-tempered contest

Title-chasing Tampines Rovers are now just one point behind leaders Albirex Niigata (S) after edging Geylang International 2-1 at the Jurong West Stadium on Thursday night.
Geylang did well to pull one back late in the first half after Tampines had gone 2-0 up earlier on, but ultimately failed to find the equaliser despite incessant late pressure.
Bringing back five national team players into the starting eleven, Tampines looked the more comfortable of the two sides from the start and managed to break the deadlock on 21 minutes.
Canadian winger Jordan Webb latched onto a Izzdin Shafiq hooked pass, skinned his marker Al-Qaasimy Rahman before clipping the ball past the onrushing Geylang goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.
Former English Premier League star Jermaine Pennant was also back in the Stags fold and was given the rough treatment throughout – eventually losing his cool as he reacted angrily to a poor Al-Qaasimy challenge that saw both players go into the book.
The 33-year-old dusted himself off to take the resulting free-kick on 39 minutes and found Billy Mehmet, who finished with a towering header into the bottom right corner.
Pennant duly celebrated towards the direction of the Geylang bench, drawing the ire of assistant coach Noor Ali and team manager Aizat Ramli.

The Englishman was swiftly brought off thereafter as a precautionary measure by coach Akbar Nawas, with Geylang reducing the deficit just three minutes later.
Shawal Anuar wriggled free on the right byline, before teeing up Mark Hartmann for a simple finish from close range.

At half-time, Geylang tactician Hasrin Jailani went for broke by utilising all three substitutions to bring on Daniel Bennett, Sahil Suhaimi and Gabriel Quak.
The Eagles looked good after the reshuffling and almost levelled things up on 51 minutes.
Sahil’s snapshot from just outside the area came back off the post before rolling gleefully into the grasp of Tampines custodian Izwan Mahbud.
The chances kept coming for the Eagles, but they were unable to convert. First, on 66 minutes, Roberto Camarasa nodded wide from Quak’s teasing ball after a neat short corner routine.
Then on 83 minutes, Quak got his head to Sahil’s inswinging corner but was unable to put the leather on target.

There was one last chance deep into injury time when Yasir Hanapi brought down Sahil outside the area, but Hartmann rammed his free-kick straight into the wall.
Tempers flared again right at the end, probably due to Geylang’s failure to return the ball after Tampines had kicked the ball out to allow Fazrul Nawaz to receive medical aid.
However, both sides ended the game with 11 men on the field as Tampines savoured a crucial win that kept them in the title hunt.
“I knew Geylang are a very competitive team and they would come at us especially in the second half,” said Akbar, who succeeded V Sundramoorthy as Stags coach in late May. “I told them at half-time not to get emotionally involved with the players or the referees.
“Farra (Mustafic Fahrudin) was important in helping the boys to keep calm and we managed to get the win. Hopefully this puts some pressure on Albirex and we still can do better in the upcoming games.”
Meanwhile opposite counterpart Hasrin believes his side only have themselves to blame for the defeat.
“We lost focus for the first goal; they had time to switch the ball to our right side,” he analysed. “Before that, they did not do anything much for 20 minutes; we were the one attacking.
“For the second goal, it’s all because of marking. With Mehmet’s height there, we should be doing much better. Apart from them, the players did not do anything wrong; they played according to my instructions to counter by the flanks.
“Now we have to forget this game and look forward to the next game against (Brunei DPMM). My target is to win all our last seven matches.”

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Jermaine Pennant ready for comeback as Tampines Rovers focus on S.League

Singapore giants Tampines Rovers won’t be scarred by Tuesday’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Albirex Niigata (S), according to head coach Akbar Nawas.

The Japanese outfit breezed into Saturday’s final of the Singapore League Cup against Brunei DPMM after a one-sided semifinal at Jurong East Stadium.

The two rivals are also vying for the S.League crown — Albirex hold a four-point lead over Tampines after 16 games — but Akbar says the drubbing won’t affect the title race.

“There won’t be any psychological blow from that result,” Akbar told ESPN FC. “With 10 players missing because of national duty and injuries, we played a completely different side to the S.League.”

Among the wounded is ex-Liverpool and Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant, who was absent from the entire League Cup campaign with an Achilles problem. But Akbar says that the Englishman was wrapped in cotton wool so he could be fit for the resumption of the S.League on Aug. 4 against Geylang International.

“I thought about playing him in the League Cup campaign but we didn’t want to take any chances,” Akbar said.

Pennant’s combination with fellow imports Jordan Webb and Billy Mehmet is one of the reasons that Tampines went on an eight-match winning streak in all competitions when Akbar took over from now national boss V. Sundramoorthy at the end of May.

The 33-year-old will be a key figure when the Stags face India’s Bengaluru FC over two legs in the quarterfinals of the AFC Cup in September, with a potential semifinal against holders Johor Darul Ta’zim, of Malaysia, to follow. Akbar says Pennant will return to a free role within the team, but alternating with Jordan Webb and other attacking players.

“Jermaine has been a joy to work with and a joy to watch,” said 40-year-old Akbar, a lifelong Liverpool fan.

“There’s no airs or graces about him, he’s humble and he listens to what you’ve got to say. In my opinion, he’s on the way to becoming the best ever foreigner in the S.League.”

Tampines’ resources were stretched during the Singapore League Cup, giving an opportunity to many of the club’s younger players, including Akbar’s 17-year-old son, Saifullah Akbar, a midfielder who’s represented Singapore’s age group teams. He and 20-year-old forward Gautam Selvamany did well enough to be considered for inclusion in the Tampines squad once the big names come back.

“Last season, Tampines didn’t even get out of the group stages of the Singapore League Cup so it was a good effort by the youngsters to get to the semifinals this year,” Akbar said.

“The 4-0 scoreline was disappointing but we did what we could with what we had against a very good Albirex side who deserved to win. But I’m very happy and grateful with the way the youngsters played during the League Cup campaign when they were made to start big games instead of just getting 15 or 20 minutes at the end.”

Tampines captain Mustafic Faharudin returned to action on Tuesday night, having missed the previous League Cup matches because of family reasons.

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