By Ruth Ooi
The senior Tampines Rovers team excelled at the Tun Abdul Razak Stadium in Kuantan on Wednesday night in their AFC Cup Group G match against Felda United.
The spectacular stadium was hosting its first-ever AFC cup match but will not go down in the history books as a positive outcome for the home side. The pre-match warm-ups were held indoors as a thunderstorm, complete with lightning, engulfed the stadium for an hour immediately prior to kick-off. Rain continued throughout the match but did not affect the determination of the Stags.
Croatian Ivan Dzoni opened the scoring in the 29th minute after a cross from Yasir Hanapi found him unmarked and bearing down on goal. The Stags’ defence did a solid job right up until the 51st minute when Felda’s Norshahrul managed to pull one back for the home team. At one-all it seemed that a repeat of the eventual 2-1 loss to Hanoi in the previous game might happen again. Head Coach Juergen Raab had other ideas though.
In a pre-match interview when asked what he had in store for Felda, he slyly remarked that he had a “special surprise” up his sleeve. In the 62nd minute he sprung the surprise: Khairul Amri came on to replace Ivan Dzoni. Within ten minutes Tampines were 3-1 up; Amri scoring twice in the 68th and 72nd minutes, once again showing the calibre for which he is renowned.
Man-of-the-Match Amri indeed was but the result belonged to the entire squad. The journey from Singapore to Kuantan involved two planes and a two-hour bus ride but the mood and dedication of the squad was spot-on. As Juergen Raab is fond of saying: building the squad is a process. And the process certainly seems to be on-track.
Tampines Rovers’ progression out of the group stage now depends upon the results of the final two games in the group: Tampines needs to beat Ceres, and Felda needs to beat Hanoi.