Raab glad players are embracing his methods
Tampines coach Raab hails players' attitude as he faces first big test against Felda
|TAMPINES ROVERS||FELDA UNITED|
Which team have the upper hand: One in season but out of form, or one that are essentially still in pre-season?
That question will be answered tonight when Tampines Rovers host Malaysian side Felda United in their AFC Cup Group G clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Felda, surprise Malaysian Super League (MSL) runners-up last season, are five games into their domestic season but are second from bottom in the league, having won just once.
Their head coach, Azmi Mohamed, sprang a surprise 10 days ago when he resigned on the eve of the team's MSL game against Kelantan.
That should work in Tampines' favour, but coach Juergen Raab's preparation for the match was far from ideal, too.
The 58-year-old German was appointed just two weeks ago, replacing Akbar Nawas who had led the Stags in their 2-0 defeat by Global FC in their Asian Champions League qualifying play-off match on Jan 24.
"It is a strange feeling that my first match is such an important one, and not knowing what we can deliver," said Raab at a press conference yesterday.
"If I had six weeks of training with the team and had played two friendlies, I would have known more.
"But we will go out tomorrow wanting to put on a good, competitive performance, and try to win the match."
Raab has wasted no time in stamping his mark, demanding two training sessions a day - one in the morning and another in the evening.
The former Garena Young Lions coach said the players have responded positively to the change.
"In the morning, we do a heavier load and, in the evening, we work more on the tactical and technical aspects," said Raab.
"In my first meeting with the team, I told them this (double sessions) was the only way to improve and I was quite surprised that all the players are ready to work so hard.
"It is different to what they may be used to, but they know what the chairman and I want - to change the style and mentality of football here in Singapore.
"If a player says, 'No, this is not for me', I have no problems. I will shake his hand and he can leave (the club).
"But no player did that, so I was happy with how well they responded, especially the older players like Mustafic (Fahrudin, 35) and Daniel (Bennett, 39)."
Defender Shakir Hamzah (hamstring) and playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman (calf) will miss tonight's game.
Felda, meanwhile, are hoping this match will help them kickstart a stuttering season.
Despite boasting Malaysian internationals such as striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, defender Shukor Adan and winger Wan Zack Haikal, they have not built on an opening-day 1-0 win over PKNS on Jan 21.
SIGNS OF REVIVAL
In their last four matches, they drew with Kedah 1-1 and lost to Johor Darul Ta'zim (3-1), Kelantan (2-1) and Selangor (3-1). But caretaker coach Mohamad Nik said he sees signs of a revival.
"We have a lot of new players, so many of them are new to our tactics," said the 62-year-old.
"Since I took over, we have played well, but our results have not been good. But, in terms of our pattern of play, I have seen improvement."
Midfielder Stuart Wark, who is half-Scot and half-Malaysian, is confident a positive result against Tampines tonight will help the team turn a corner.
"I think we've played very well over the last few games, but we have not had much luck in front of goal," said the 27-year-old former JDT II player.
"We're looking forward to tomorrow's match. When you play in another competition, sometimes it can help kickstart your season.
"Hopefully, we can get three points against Tampines and get some confidence for our MSL game (against Perak) this weekend."
Tampines reached the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup last year, when they lost 1-0 on aggregate to eventual runners-up Bengaluru of India.
In tonight's other Group G match, Vietnamese champions Hanoi FC take on Philippines' Ceres-Negros in Hanoi.