Not quite a cup final dress rehearsal
Akbar and Naruo set to rest players ahead of Saturday's showpiece
ALBIREX NIIGATA v TAMPINES ROVERS
(Tomorrow, 7.45pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Newly crowned champions Albirex Niigata and second-placed Tampines Rovers meet tomorrow in their final game of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign, just three days before they lock horns again in the RHB Singapore Cup final.
But anyone hoping tomorrow's clash at Jalan Besar Stadium will be a full-blown dress rehearsal for Saturday's showpiece would do well to temper his expectations.
With Albirex looking to complete an unprecedented quadruple, following the capture of The New Paper League Cup and Community Shield, and Tampines hoping to end a difficult year on a positive note, both sides are unlikely to take too many risks on the final day of the league season.
"Our main aim for Wednesday's game is to use it as a tune-up for the Singapore Cup final," Stags coach Akbar Nawas told TNP yesterday.
"Obviously, the match is of no consequence in terms of the S.League and some would even say we should just flip a coin to decide the result.
"Still, we have to be professionals and do our jobs so I will mix it up a bit, playing some first-team players with some of the fringe members of the squad that deserve a chance.
"I would have liked to rest as many players as I can but our Prime League team are playing a game on Thursday, so I won't be able to call upon too many of them."
It appears a similar approach will also be adopted by Albirex coach Naoki Naruo. His situation is even more intriguing, given that he has almost always called upon the same 14 outfield players throughout the year.
It means some of his reserves could be tasting first-team action for the first time tomorrow.
"I am thinking of making some changes with one eye on the final, but we will still go into the two games looking to win both," explained the 42-year-old.
"This is considered our home game so we will do our best to win with a good performance.
"Furthermore, Tampines have a lot of good players, so I'm expecting a tough game even if they leave out some of their key men."
Having wrapped up the S.League title over a week ago, Albirex were brought back down to earth last Thursday when they were beaten 3-1 by Home United.
Although that match, like tomorrow's game, was of little significance in the overall scheme of things for the White Swans, Naruo has warned his charges that they can ill afford a similar display.
Ahead of tomorrow's trophy presentation, he said: "Our last performance was very bad because there was a lack of motivation.
"But I suppose it was difficult in a way because it was right after we became champions.
"All throughout the season, we have shown passion in our football so as not to let our supporters down.
"We won't repeat the same mistake on Wednesday."
Obviously, the match is of no consequence in terms of the S.League and some would even say we should just flip a coin to decide the result.
— Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas on their final league game against Albirex Niigata