Five key battles
SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ looks at the crucial match-ups that could decide a tight contest
1) DENYING THE WIDTH
Naofumi Tanaka v Ismadi Mukhtar
One of the reasons for Albirex's dominance this season is marauding left wingback Tanaka.
The 22-year-old is sound defensively and is a big threat going forward.
His lung-bursting runs give Albirex width and a dynamism in the final third and he has racked up seven assists and three goals in the S.League.
He is likely to be up against Tampines wideman Ismadi tonight.
The waifish Stags fullback is 32, but is as fit as they come and also has pace to burn.
Crucially, he also has bags of experience and knows how to deal with quick opponents.
Ismadi insists he and his teammates will not pay extra attention to Tanaka.
He told The New Paper yesterday: "We haven't talked about how to stop him or even (striker Atsushi) Kawata.
"We just have to stick to our game plan and not worry about their individual players."
2) BATTLE OF THE BIG MEN
Atsushi Shirota v Billy Mehmet
Expect a bruising battle between these two.
Shirota, 24, has been a rock-solid presence at the heart of Albirex's back three.
He stands at 1.81m, is built like a tank and is uncompromising in the challenge.
The Nagano native is a big reason why Albirex boast the best defence in the S.League, keeping clean sheets in half of their 24 games.
You can trust Mehmet to put himself about.
The former West Ham trainee is 1.89m tall and he has scored 16 goals in 30 games across all competitions for the Stags.
The 31-year-old has played at the top level in Scotland, Turkey and Australia, so he is well adjusted to a physical style of football.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo said: "Mehmet can hold the ball well up front, so we must prevent Tampines from getting the ball to him when he is near the goal.
"Atsushi is the only player we have who can match him physically, so I'm looking for him to put in a good performance."
3) SHACKLING THE DANGERMAN
Atsushi Kawata v Mustafic Fahrudin
With Kawata leading the line, opposition defenders will not have a moment's rest.
The 24-year-old is a tireless worker, and a key part of Albirex's pressing game by harassing opponents from the front.
He has scored 19 goals in 29 games in all competitions, and is as deadly in the air despite his average height (1.77m), as he is with his powerful shots. The Osaka native was rightly named on the shortlist of nominees for the S.League Player of the Year award.
Tampines' stalwart Mustafic, with Shakir Hamzah likely alongside him in defence, will be tasked to keep Kawata quiet.
Even though the 35-year-old is edging towards the end of his career, he has faced his fair share of dangermen in the past and is hardly fazed by anything.
He also has big-game temperament, having lifted two AFF Suzuki Cups, four S.League titles and two Singapore Cups in a glittering career.
Mustafic admits Kawata will be a handful, but is confident of shackling him.
Said the Singapore international: "He's a good player, probably one of the best strikers in the S.League.
"He's not such a big guy, but he's very good in the air. Shakir and I will have to make sure we always put in a challenge.
"But we know as long as we play to instructions, and play as a team, we can get the result we want."
4) ENFORCERS' HEAD-ON CLASH
Shuto Inaba v Izzdin Shafiq
Inaba and Izzdin are like a mirror image of each other, in terms of playing styles.
Both are hard, aggressive tacklers who aren't half bad on the ball, either.
The 23-year-old Japanese midfielder has scored one goal this season - and it was a breathtaking volley from 20 metres that sailed into the top corner, during the Singapore Cup semi-final first-leg tie against Balestier Khalsa. Singapore international Izzdin, meanwhile, is known for his laser-guided passing, pinging balls across the pitch with ease.
Both players have a "take-no-prisoners" mentality, and the prospect of them locking horns to dominate the middle of the park is a mouth-watering one.
Indeed, whoever wins this battle could decide the outcome of the final.
5) THE WILDCARDS
Tatsuro Inui & Jermaine Pennant
In a Cup final, it's handy to have an ace up your sleeve.
It just so happens that both coaches, Naoki Naruo and Akbar Nawas, are likely to have players with the technical ability to change games, from the bench.
On Albirex's side is Inui.
The attacking midfielder is in his second stint with the club - he also played for the White Swans in 2010 and 2011 - and has been a crucial figure, although in somewhat of an auxiliary role for the team.
He is the team's second-highest scorer, with 12 goals in 27 games across all competitions, but started in just 14 of them.
Inui could bring an added dimension to Albirex's attack, should they have trouble unlocking the Stags' backline.
Pennant, meanwhile, is arguably the biggest name to grace the S.League.
But the ex-Liverpool and Arsenal man could have to make way in the starting 11 for playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman, who has been in good form since returning from injury early this month.
Pennant, 33, a former England Under-21 player, is likely to be involved at some point and his ability over the dead ball could prove useful in what is likely to be a tight game.
He has confirmed he will leave the club at the end of the season and will be out to make sure his Singapore adventure ends on a high.