Injury & suspensions, but Tampines confident of beating Mohun Bagan
Stags missing key players but coach says they can upset favourites
ROUND OF 16
MOHUN BAGAN v TAMPINES ROVERS
(Tonight, 9.20pm, Singtel TV Ch 116 & StarHub TV Ch 210)
They were beaten by Mohun Bagan just three months ago in an AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifier, and go into tonight's AFC Cup Round-of-16 tie against the same opposition in a hostile environment with three first-team players sidelined through suspension and injury.
But Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy refused to believe that defeat is a foregone conclusion.
Speaking to The New Paper from India yesterday, Sundram was defiant.
"We have every chance to do something in this game. It's a one-off match and it's the performance on the day that counts," he said.
India's newly-crowned Federation Cup champions beat Tampines 3-1 in a match played in Kolkata in January, before the S.League's February kick-off, and Sundram believes his charges will not be easy pickings this time round.
"In the first game, we were still in the middle of our pre-season and were not so sharp, not so focused. If you compare the team then to the team now, we have definitely improved, with all the games we have under our belt since then.
"But we need to focus for the entire 90 minutes and not make any defensive errors that lead to goals, like we did the first time," said the 50-year-old.
While Tampines may have struggled with sharpness the first time they faced Mohun Bagan, their challenge to earn a quarter-final spot remains a formidable one.
The Stags will be without suspended duo, chief striker Billy Mehmet and midfield strongman Yasir Hanapi, whose sensational goal against Selangor earlier this month earned the S.League giants a spot in the last 16.
Stylish playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman also suffered a long-term knee injury in the win over the Malaysian Super League giants.
"We are really going to miss the three of them and we will have to organise the team differently because of that," said Sundram.
"But it happens in football, and this now becomes an opportunity for the rest of the players to show that they can step up."
The Stags still have former Arsenal and Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, Singapore international midfielder Izzdin Shafiq and winger Jordan Webb to steady the side and cause the opponents problems.
According to Sundram, Mohun Bagan will also have to do without one of their four foreign players.
"Their four foreigners are absolutely key to their team," said Sundram, referring to Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa, defender Luciano Sabrosa, Haitian international Sony Norde and former Trinidad and Tobago international forward Cornell Glen.
"We found out that Sony will be away playing for his national team so, while we will lose three players, they'll lose at least one."
Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra had earlier told The New Paper that this will be Sundram's last game as coach of the club, with assistant Akbar Nawas, Herman Zailani and Mustafic Fahrudin taking over the reins.
Sundram is poised to take over as Singapore coach, following the departure of Bernd Stage, and lead the Lions in a quadrangular tournament in Myanmar next week.
But the former Singapore international refused to have his attention diverted from the immediate task.
"If we get things right, we can win this," he said.
"We just have to be tight defensively, focus for the entire duration of the match and capitalise on their weaknesses that we've identified."
If we get things right, we can win this.
— Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy