Home United hot favourites to play in next season's AFC Cup
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL v HOME UNITED
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Bedok Stadium)
The top and bottom teams have been confirmed, but there is still one important contest to be decided in this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
Home United visit Geylang International tonight at the Bedok Stadium in a match that will confirm Singapore's second team in next season's AFC Cup.
Second-placed Tampines Rovers have claimed one of the two berths by virtue of being the highest-placed local team.
While the winners of the RHB Singapore Cup normally take up the other AFC Cup spot, this time it will go to the local club that finish highest in the S.League after Tampines, who will take on Japanese outfit Albirex Niigata in the Cup final on Saturday.
Home are currently in that position, sitting fourth, three points ahead of fifth-placed Geylang.
The only way Geylang, with an inferior goal difference, can wrest fourth place from the Protectors is to win by at least five goals.
Home are determined to make sure one of the most dramatic capitulations in S.League history will not take place.
Said coach Aidil Sharin: "The last few days, I've been talking to individual players, telling them not to get complacent.
"I don't want them to think it's acceptable for us to waste time during the game and play for a draw.
"I want them to play the same way they did in the last game (a 3-1 win over champions Albirex Niigata).
"We're in form, why change?
"Spirit is high, the morale of the group is good, and I can see they are working hard and they want it."
Long-serving skipper Juma'at Jantan added: "Coach has been telling us every day, in every training session, that it's not going to be easy and we cannot take it lightly.
"We are in the driver's seat right now. But Geylang have nothing to lose, they will give their all and they will come at us. If we lack concentration, they will kill us."
In their league meetings this season, Geylang edged out Home 2-1 at the Bishan Stadium and the teams drew 2-2 at Bedok.
Home also thumped an understrength Geylang team missing seven national players 5-0 in The New Paper League Cup in July.
Protectors defender Abdil Qaiyyim warned: "We know that if we can beat them 5-0, they can do it to us, too.
"The ball is round. If we are not ready, we might pay the price."
Home have qualified seven times for the 13-year-old AFC Cup.
Abdil, who previously tasted AFC Cup action with Warriors FC in 2013, is hungry for a chance to compete in the competition again.
"It was a very good experience for me to play against some of the top teams in Asia," said the centre-back, who is hoping to earn a place in national coach V Sundramoorthy's squad for the AFF Suzuki Cup next month.
"It's a place for you to gauge yourself and learn by playing against better opponents.
"We (Home) were so close last year but lost in the Singapore Cup final to Albirex, so we want to make sure we get it right this time round."
Juma'at, who joined Home in 2007 and has played AFC Cup football in four of the 10 seasons with the club, added: "Everything - the teams, opponents, pressure - is different in the AFC Cup, and everything just feels like a level up."
Spirit is high, the morale of the group is good, and I can see they are working hard and they want it.
— Home United coach Aidil Sharin
Uphill task, but Eagles believe
UPBEAT: Sahil Suhaimi is looking to continue his recent good form against Home United tonight. PHOTO: TNP FILE
In their final game of last season, Geylang International scored a 6-0 victory over Warriors FC.
The Eagles would love to cap this year's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season by posting the same scoreline.
After all, they need to beat Home United by five goals at the Bedok Stadium tonight to wrest fourth place - and a spot in next season's AFC Cup - from the Protectors.
The form book does not suggest it is likely.
The most Geylang have scored in a game this season is in a 3-3 draw with Tampines Rovers and two 3-1 wins over the bottom two sides, Balestier Khalsa and Garena Young Lions.
The Eagles have been involved in a 5-0 game this season, but were on the wrong end of that scoreline, when they missed seven national players and were routed - coincidentally - by Home in The New Paper League Cup in July.
But their players are in bullish mood.
Striker Sahil Suhaimi, who has scored three goals in his last four games - all of them winners - said: "Everybody in the team believes we can pull it off. After all, this is football and anything can happen.
"I feel great and it really helps my confidence.
"Also, in our last two games, the team created a lot of chances.
"So if we can create chances again, all we need to do is put them away."
Skipper Isa Halim admitted his side faces an uphill task.
He lamented the fact they had fluffed many clear scoring opportunities in their last game - a 1-0 win over Hougang United - which has contributed to their tough position today.
But the midfielder added: "The boys see this game as a second chance.
"At one point of the season, we were nowhere near fourth place or the AFC Cup spot.
"But now we have this chance, we just have to play our game and follow the coaches' instructions, and hopefully it'll be enough.
"We'll need luck also because a five-goal win is not easy.
"The boys are fired up and motivated. We have everything to play for."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ