Second-half spark not enough for Stags as Bali seal victory
|(Boris Kopitovic 43, Jordan Webb 53, Wawan Hendrawan 67-og)||(Melvin Platje 8, 12, Muhammad Rahmat 82, Stefano Lilipaly 100, Sidik Saimima 115)|
A stirring second-half comeback from Tampines Rovers was eventually not enough as they lost 5-3 after extra time to Indonesian champions Bali United at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday (Jan 14).
Trailing 2-0 after just 12 minutes, the Stags turned the tables to lead 3-2 but could not hold on to their advantage in the preliminary-round match of the AFC Champions League qualifiers.
Bali, who were crowned Indonesian league champions last month, started the match looking the fresher team and took the lead in the eighth minute through Melvin Platje.
The Dutch forward caught goalkeeper Zulfairuuz Rudy off his line with a deft lob from about 30 metres.
Platje doubled the visitors' lead in the 12th minute with a stupendous half-volley from just inside the penalty area.
His strike brought the section of Bali fans onto their feet in fervour, but also seemed to have woken up the Stags on the pitch.
With new acquisition Kyoga Nakamura and Zehrudin Mehmedovic regaining control of the midfield, the Stags were replicating much of the smooth passing and pressing that were on display in last season's Singapore Premier League.
And just two minutes before half-time, Tampines halved the deficit with another new signing, Montenegrin forward Boris Kopitovic scoring a superb solo goal.
The 24-year-old turned his marker brilliantly and drove into the box before slotting from a narrow angle.
The Stags came out of the break, hell-bent on making a comeback.
In the 53rd minute, Mehmedovic, who was at the heart of every Stags' move, sent an inch-perfect pass onto the path of Jordan Webb, who ran through to make it 2-2.
Buoyed by the equaliser, the Stags pushed for the third goal.
And in the 67th minute, their efforts paid off when Kopitovic's cross from the left flank was inadvertently turned into his own net by Bali goalkeeper Wawan Hendrawan.
With this being their first competitive outing of the 2020 season, Tampines' grip on the match eventually loosened, allowing Bali to make it 3-3 with eight minutes left.
Muhammad Rahmat pulled away unmarked in the box to score and send the match into extra time, after receiving a pass from Stefano Lilipaly.
By this time, the Stags looked a spent force.
Bali smelled blood and pounced, regaining the lead in the 100th minute through Lilipaly, before sealing their progress in the 115th minute through Sidik Saimima.
They will meet Melbourne Victory in the next stage of the qualifiers, while the Stags will move on to the AFC Cup.
Tampines head coach Kadir Yahaya praised the Stags for keeping to their usual passing style despite initially going behind, but admitted that his team's lack of fitness compared to their opponents proved to be the difference.
He said: "Even when we were two goals down, we didn't resort to long balls and that's the way we want things to be. We still played.
"But of course, we are still in pre-season mode and it showed in the end. But I think the boys did well."