Gloves off as SPL sides vie for glory in virtual tourney
Between them, Albirex Niigata pair Hyrulnizam Juma'at and Yasuhiro Hanada have not been playing much in the Singapore Premier League (SPL), before the Covid-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt.
Last Saturday, however, the pair were mainstays in the team's starting XI in a virtual tournament, by virtue of the faith placed in their ability by the duo themselves.
Goalkeeper Hyrulnizam and defender Hanada's cheeky moves to displace first-teamers Kei Okawa and Hiroyoshi Kamata respectively have been duly rewarded with a semi-final spot in the eSPL tournament, where they will face Tampines Rovers tomorrow.
The inaugural e-sports competition pits pairs from eight local-based SPL teams against one another in eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer at The Gym, an e-sports centre in Jalan Besar.
Hyrulnizam and Hanada won all three of their Group A matches, mustering 10 goals and conceding thrice in a run that included a 3-1 victory over title rivals Lion City Sailors.
The Sailors, represented by Zulqarnaen Suzliman and Iqram Rifqi, finished Group A runners-up and will face Group B winners Geylang International, helmed by Azri Suhaili and Harith Kanadi, in tomorrow's other semi-final.
Looking ahead to their clash, Hyrulnizam played down Albirex's chances of reaching the final as he felt the Stags have a young team and a gaming champion in their midst.
"I would say it is 60-40 in Tampines' favour," Hyrulnizam, 33, told The New Paper.
Managing the controls of Tampines are midfielders Joel Chew and Haziq Mikhail, both 20.
In April, Chew, along with professional e-sports player Amraan Gani, represented Singapore and won the Stay and Play Asian Series 2020, a friendly Fifa20 tournament also involving Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia.
However, Chew was quick to label his side as the underdogs.
"We are lucky to be in the semis, but we are improving with each game," he said.
"We started with a loss (2-0 against Geylang), then a draw (2-2 with Hougang United) followed by a win (2-1 against Tanjong Pagar)... but Albirex didn't drop a point in the group stages.
"In Hanada, Albirex seem to have an experienced player. He seems to know the tricks, the way he scored a free-kick goal was very professional."
While admitting that his teammate has played eFootball PES 2020 before, Hyrulnizam added that it was some time ago as Hanada, 20, didn't bring his gaming console with him when he moved to Singapore in January.
Underdogs or not, they are "going to go all-out attack".
Fans can catch the action on Singtel TV Ch 111, StarHub TV Ch 202, meWATCH and the SPL Facebook page tomorrow, with the finals on Sunday. Action starts at 2pm on both days.