Tampines left with mountain to climb after drawing with Balestier
Draw leaves Tampines needing a huge win over Warriors to make last four
(Mustafic Fahrudin 52, Mateo Roskam 58)
(Zulkiffli Hassim 54, Fadhil Noh 71)
Maybe it was the subdued atmosphere at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, but Tampines Rovers coach V Sundramoorthy's yell could probably have been heard even in Little India.
Already frustrated with his side's inability to convert chance after chance against Balestier Khalsa, the 49-year-old entered the pitch in the 85th minute to berate referee Sukhbir Singh.
"Ref, he kicked him!" was Sundram's loud appeal, after a nasty collision between Stags midfielder Aqhari Abdullah and Balestier's Tarik Cmajcanin, which left both players unable to continue the game.
Moments earlier, Sundram shook his head as he watched striker Rodrigo Tosi scuff a one-on-one opportunity to win the game.
In the end, the two sides had to settle for a 2-2 draw in a Group B clash of The New Paper League Cup.
The result leaves the Tigers with one foot in the semi-finals, as Tampines must now beat Warriors FC by five goals to qualify for the last four.
Only the top side in the three-team group advance, and Balestier sit top after beating Warriors 4-0 on Monday.
"Anything is possible in football," Sundram said after the game, when asked if his team could do the improbable against the Warriors on Wednesday.
"We will go out there positive and try to attack from the first whistle; what else can we do?
"It was a one-off when the Warriors lost to Balestier. They are a good team with some very good players."
If the Stags are to pull off a miracle, they can ill-afford to repeat their first-half performance last night.
A tepid first 45 minutes saw zero shots on target from either team.
The second half came to life quickly, though, as Mustafic Fahrudin gave the Stags the lead in the 52nd minute with a close-range tap in.
A flurry of goals was to follow.
Zulkiffli Hassim finished off an accurate cross from Fadhil Noh just two minutes later, before Croat Mateo Roskam restored Tampines' lead in the 58th minute with a solo effort.
Much to Sundram's frustration, the Stags suffered another concentration lapse in the 71st minute, allowing an unmarked Fadhil to slot home the second equaliser.
Brazilian striker Tosi then missed a gilt-edged chance to win the game when he shot straight at goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam after being put through on goal.
"Performance-wise, we are getting better, but there's still a lack of focus in defence, and we let in two soft goals today," Sundram said.
"Even Messi misses, so what can I say (about Tosi's miss)? He tried his best. Hopefully, he'll be more clinical next time."
In last night's other game at the Jurong East Stadium, Albirex Niigata beat Sporting Westlake 2-0 with goals from Atsushi Kawata and Rion Taki.
The Japanese side are now through to the last four, having also beaten Home United on Monday.
- TAMPINES: Joey Sim, ismadi Mukhtar, Mustafic Fahrudin (ismail Yunos 66), Pedrag Pocuca, Shaiful Esah, Aqhari Abdullah, Fabian Kwok, Firdaus idros (Ridhuan Muhamad 78), Jamil Ali (Zulfadli Zainal Abidin 65), Mateo Roskam, Rodrigo Tosi
- BALESTIER: Zaiful nizam, Emir Lotinac, igor Cerina, Robert Perisic, Tarik Cmajcanin (Ridwan Jamil 87), Miroslav Kristic, Ahmad Syahir (Hanafi Salleh 72), Poh Yifeng, Ho Wai Loon, Fadhil noh (ignatius Ang 72), Zulkiffli Hassim
- TNP Man of the Match: Fadhil Noh (Balestier)
- GROUP A: Brunei DPMM v S'pore Recreation Club (Jalan Besar Stadium, 8.30pm)
*Group champions and Group A runners-up advance to semis.