Selangor won't play for a draw
Qualification for Round of 16 at stake, along with honour of the respective leagues
TAMPINES ROVERS v SELANGOR
(Today, 7pm, StarHub TV Ch 210 & Singtel TV Ch 116)
The equation is simple: Malaysian Super League (MSL) giants Selangor need only a draw to ensure passage from Group E into the AFC Cup Round of 16, at the expense of Tampines Rovers.
At the National Stadium tonight, V Sundramoorthy's S.League giants have no choice but to win to advance.
But, if you take Selangor coach Zainal Abidin at his word, then it won't be a case of the home side laying siege on their opponents and attempting to break through their defence.
Former Malaysia star striker Zainal insists his side will play, and that his team have the wherewithal to attack and win.
"It is difficult to hold out for a draw for 90 minutes, we've got our own plan for (today)," he said at the pre-match press conference yesterday.
"We are giving 100 per cent, nothing less. This is a very crucial game for us, we are going all out to qualify for the next round."
MSL champions Johor Darul Ta'zim's (JDT) lifted the AFC Cup last season and, stoking the flames yesterday, Zainal took a swipe at the S.League.
"I can't deny that we're looking forward to the AFC tournaments, not like before (JDT's win) where we just participate. Now all Malaysian teams want to do well," he said.
"I don't like to compare, but (a country's) local league is important and, definitely, the Malaysian league is (of a) higher (standard) than here."
It was not immediately obvious if he found its target because Tampines coach Sundram hardly reacted sitting beside Zainal, choosing instead to focus on his own charges.
"If we're willing to run, to fight and play to the tactical plan of the team, I believe we can get a result," said the 2013 MSL-winning coach of the disbanded Singapore outfit, the LionsXII.
"Psychologically, the boys will have a boost (from having beaten Selangor in the away fixture) and we have been watching them, tracking their games.
"Hopefully, the boys can go out there and play to the game plan."
There is clearly a sense that both clubs are also fighting for the honour of the respective countries, especially when one considers the football history between the two Causeway rivals.
Tampines beat Selangor 1-0 in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, but Zainal retorted: "We were controlling that game (in Malaysia), creating chances, it was a big loss for us at home."
Like his Selangor counterpart, Sundram did not reveal exactly what his game plan was, but needing a victory to stay in the competition, it is apparent that the five-time S.League champions will have to step out into the huge arena with guns blazing.
The size of the task was not lost on Sundram.
"Make no mistake about it, they're a good side. But our destiny is still in our own hands, that is very important," said the former Singapore star, who crossed swords with Zainal on numerous occasions as a player.
"But yes, this is like a cup final for us."
One huge drawback for Sundram is the condition of fleet-footed winger Jordan Webb, who will be put through a late fitness test, but is unlikely to start.
But with old warhorses Mustafic Fahrudin and Noh Rahman in his ranks, there is confidence in the camp that the Stags can get the job done, even if they are playing at an unfamiliar venue.
No S.League side has played at the National Stadium since 2006, when Tampines beat Thai side Chonburi in the Singapore Cup final.
The Stags will be the first S.League side to play at the new National Stadium since its 2014 opening.
"It is an honour to play at the National Stadium and I have good memories from playing at the old (venue) with the national team," said former Singapore international Mustafic.
"We must stay focused if we are to do a job there (tonight)."
Make no mistake about it, they’re a good side. But our destiny is still in our own hands, that is very important.
— Tampines coach V Sundramoorthy
Tampines definitely have the advantage, they are playing at home and most of their players are well exposed, even at international level. Most of the time we come here, we play on an artificial turf (at Jalan Besar Stadium) but, this time, it’s a grass pitch. That is a big advantage for us.
— Selangor coach Zainal Abidin
- Ceres La Salle v Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi
Krishna stands by National Stadium decision
Tonight, Tampines Rovers will make history when they walk out onto the pitch at the 55,000-capacity National Stadium, becoming the first local football club to set foot in the Republic's premier sporting arena in some 10 years.
The Stags were in fact the last team to do that, when they beat Thai side Chonburi in the November 2006 Singapore Cup final at the old venue in Kallang.
Ticket sales have not been encouraging, and there are rumblings on social media about other S.League clubs being asked to help fill the stadium with their players and fan club members.
Despite this, Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra insists moving the fixture from Jalan Besar Stadium to the National Stadium is a worthwhile experiment.
"I have always maintained that we need to have an effective barometer as to where local football support is at.
"There is no right or wrong result when we look at the attendance numbers, it is what we do after the game that counts," said the 44-year-old lawyer (above) yesterday.
"We are resuscitating a fan base that has flat-lined for far too long.
"Hopefully, we get a glimmer of hope from the attendance numbers, whatever it is. It is a weekday and the middle of the exam period so we need to be somewhat measured in our assessment."
The game has come at a time where there has been much focus on Tampines' highly-publicised cash-flow issues that threatened to undo all the good work the club have done in raising the profile of the S.League - like the signing of former Liverpool and Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant, in addition to a host of Singapore internationals.
The club have also secured a partnership with Brazilian star Ronaldinho's academy and have also brought on board former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier as their international ambassador.
"This is the real world and the players know that every club will have their fair share of bumps along the way," said Krishna, who took over from long-time chairman Teo Hock Seng in November.
"We have also done a lot of positives for the football scene and we are proud of it and we will not let recent issues dampen the good the club are trying to do for Singapore football.
"That's what the management signed up for and we must continue pushing the boundaries for standards and innovation."
While Krishna acknowledged that today's result will have a big impact on the season, it is not reason enough for him to pile the pressure on his men and coach V Sundramoorthy.
"It is certainly a significant game for the Stags and it would certainly define one aspect of our season, but not the entire season," he said.
"I always tell the coaches and players to give it their all - that way they never lose. If we do get to the next round, it is a great piece of progress for Singapore clubs. I wish the very best to Balestier Khalsa, too, on this endeavour."
Marko Kraljevic's Balestier will face Hong Kong's Kitchee tonight. A win could also send them into the AFC Cup's Round of 16.
The last Singapore side to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament was Home United, in 2012.
They were knocked out 3-0 by Syria side Al-Shorta in the Round of 16. - SHAMIR OSMAN
AFC Cup Group E
Tampines v Selangor
- Adult: $10
- Concession (students aged 16 and below, and senior citizens aged 60 and above): $4
- Bundle package: 20 per cent discount for purchase of 20 adult tickets and above
- Family bundle (2 Adult + 2 Concession): $24
HOW TO BUY
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- Box office: Singapore Indoor Stadium
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