Stags deliver perfect farewell gift for Sundram
Stags reach last eight of AFC Cup in Sundram's final game before he takes over national team
ROUND OF 16
MOHUN BAGAN 1
(Bikramjit Singh 72)
TAMPINES ROVERS 2
(Jordan Webb 63, Afiq Yunos 116)
● After extra time. Full-time: 1-1.
For the last two weeks, the football fraternity has been abuzz with talk about the probable appointment of V Sundramoorthy as national coach.
The New Paper reported on May 13 that the Tampines Rovers coach would be offered the Lions job by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and his club chairman, Krishna Ramachandra, has already revealed how he plans to cope with the 50-year-old's departure from the Stags' hot seat.
Last night, the FAS announced it would unveil the new national coach in a press conference at the Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow.
The unveiling would cap a whirlwind 64 hours for "The Dazzler", as he was known during his stellar days as a player.
On Tuesday, some 6,000km away at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Kolkata, India, he masterminded a 2-1 victory for S.League giants Tampines over Indian side Mohun Bagan.
Despite having defender Shakir Hamzah sent off in the 54th minute after picking up two quick bookings, Canadian winger Jordan Webb put the Stags ahead with a fluke goal after his cross sailed into the top corner in the 63rd minute.
Bikramjit Singh equalised for the hosts nine minutes later with a long-range effort that beat Izwan Mahbud.
But the five-time S.League champions dug deep to force the match into extra time, when lanky defender Afiq Yunos emerged the unlikely hero after he lashed home from a set-piece routine in the 116th minute.
The win secured Tampines' passage into the quarter-finals of the competition, the first time since SAFFC (now renamed Warriors FC) and Home United reached the stage in 2008.
Singapore's best showing in the AFC Cup was in 2004, when Home and Geylang United, now known as Geylang International, lost in the semi-finals to Iraqi sides.
Speaking to TNP last night, Krishna said: "It was a very proud moment for me and I'm sure for the Tampines Rovers supporters as well.
"I'm impressed by the fortitude and togetherness the team showed.
"I communicated with Sundram after the game, gave him my thoughts on how the team approached the match, and I also told him I was very pleased we managed to notch the result.
"It's always great to have a good send-off and that's something Sundram and the players have delivered."
Krishna told TNP last week that Tampines will turn to a coaching trio of Akbar Nawas (Sundram's current assistant), Herman Zailani (Prime League coach) and captain Mustafic Fahrudin after Sundram's departure.
The Stags chairman admitted he is allowing his coach to take up the national reins with a tinge of heartache.
"It's bittersweet because (Sundram) is a top coach," he said. "But the current crop of players are professional and they know what they have to do for the rest of the season.
"In Akbar, Herman and Farra, we have the coaching staff that the team need at this juncture.
"The squad are close-knit, and having a new coach come from the outside might be counter-productive."
Tampines are one of only two South-east Asian sides left in the AFC Cup, the other being Malaysian champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, who lifted the trophy last year.
JDT thrashed Philippine side Kaya FC 7-2 in Larkin last night, underlining their credentials and sounding a warning to those eyeing their title.
Krishna said: "It's a massive validation for my team to get to this stage.
"We always set up to deliver to the best of our abilities. This is where Tampines Rovers would like to be season in, season out, showing off Singapore football at a continental level.
"Can we go all the way? I think, on our day, the team have what it takes to mix it with any team in the AFC Cup. But we have to be on our 'A' game."