Controversy at Great Eastern Community Shield
Tampines' three red cards and a controversial penalty retake put referee under the spotlight
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||TAMPINES ROVERS|
|(Soichiro Sakamoto 75, 82)||(Ryutaro Megumi 36)|
Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers could hardly have asked for a better stage to kick off the 2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League season yesterday evening.
On the lush green turf of the National Stadium, the two sets of players did battle in the Great Eastern Community Shield, which doubles up as the first S.League game of the season.
What's more, a healthy crowd of 15,480 fans turned up eager to see what the two teams have to offer this term.
In the end, however, the spotlight was stolen by referee Sukhbir Singh.
The man in the middle denied Tampines a goal and, subsequently, flashed the red card to three Tampines players, whose team sensationally collapsed after being 1-0 up to lose 2-1 to Albirex.
The moment of controversy came in the 59th minute.
With Tampines 1-0 up, thanks to Ryutaro Megumi's 36th-minute header, Sukhbir pointed to the spot when Daniel Bennett went down in the Albirex box as the players tussled at a corner-kick.
Up stepped Stags' Croatian forward Ivan Dzoni, who calmly sent an accurate penalty beyond the dive of Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa.
But, as the Tampines players wheeled away in celebration, Sukhbir cut short their joy and demanded a retake.
At the second time of asking, former Croatia Under-17 captain Dzoni sent his spot-kick crashing off the upright.
Five minutes after that miss, Sukhbir further incensed Tampines players and supporters when he flashed a second yellow card to Yasir Hanapi for pulling back an opponent.
The referee reached for his red card two more times - first, to Madhu Mohana in the 88th minute for a lunge and then in injury time to Ismadi Mukhtar for what was understood to be an off-the-ball incident.
CHORUS OF BOOS
At full-time, the match officials left the pitch and disappeared down the tunnel, to a chorus of boos from a section of Tampines supporters.
Stags coach Juergen Raab refused to comment on the red cards, but was apoplectic at the penalty retake.
"For me, we had a benefit, the penalty," said the German.
"So why the decision (to retake)? We scored. What is wrong? Was the opponent too fast (encroaching into the box)?
"Even so, why? We are supposed to have the benefit. I will never understand. That is what I have to say about the referee. About the other decisions, I don't want to say anything."
His players were equally upset.
Said Bennett: "Obviously, Albirex are a good team.
"But we were in the driver's seat and the referee robbed us of a goal. If the (scored) penalty was allowed, that would have changed the game.
"It's about the players on the field, not about the referee.
"You can see what the fans thought about it."
Defender Mustafic Fahrudin added: "It's really frustrating.
"We had a good feeling we could win the game, even though we knew they were going to come back strongly in the second half.
"But that disallowed penalty... Only the referee knows why. From there, tensions rose, and then came the red cards.
"It's a pity. The fans came out in numbers, the football was good but, tomorrow, people will read the papers and see three red cards. They will think it was a dirty game, but it wasn't.
"I'm sorry to say, but the referee spoilt the game. We can accept the defeat, but the way we lost is hard to take."
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga admitted that the penalty incident was "an important juncture" of the game, but did not pass judgment on the sending-offs.
"This is football... The red cards that the opponents got were the result of our attacking play," said the 48-year-old.
"We attacked them a lot, their players became more stressed, and that probably resulted in more fouls.
"Whether or not they were deserved, you can decide for yourself."