Tampines look forward with new goalkeeper
With new Brazilian goalkeeper, Stags aim to use TNP League Cup as platform for success
TAMPINES ROVERS v BALESTIER KHALSA
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
The first six months of the Great Eastern S.League season were not kind to Tampines Rovers.
The five-time champions are fifth in the league, 10 points behind the table-topping Warriors.
A lack of firepower up front enforced coach V Sundramoorthy to reshuffle his foreign strikers two months ago and, now, a slew of soft goals conceded has also forced the Stags to look overseas for a new goalkeeper.
Tampines have signed goalkeeper Rodrigo Fernando Pacheco de Oliveira in a bid to bolster their charge on all fronts. He will join the duo of Joey Sim and Siddiq Durimi to fight for the No. 1 spot.
After a five-week break, the Stags are set to put their poor form behind them.
Starting with tonight's tie against Balestier Khalsa in the The New Paper League Cup, team captain Mustafic Fahrudin said they are ready to charge into the second half of the year as a tighter unit with renewed vigour.
"The League Cup is a good chance for us to gain confidence when we resume the S.League," he said.
"I think we're a better team now since the break. We've been training well to try and minimise our mistakes.
"It's important for us to use this League Cup to gain momentum. That's what's been lacking - this team just need to win a few games for some confidence."
Tonight's Group B tie against the Tigers at the Jalan Besar Stadium certainly won't be easy, judging from the way Balestier thrashed Warriors FC 4-0 in their group opener on Monday.
Only the top side from the three-team group will advance to the semi-finals, and a defeat will spell the end for Tampines' campaign, even after just one game.
"Even if we draw, we will need to beat Warriors 5-0, so really, we have to win this game," the 34-year-old Mustafic added.
"We are in the strongest group. People might have said after the draw that (qualification) is between us and Warriors, but Balestier are a serious team, with a good coach.
"They are one of the hardest working teams in the league and they are enjoying their football."
Brazilian Rodrigo is set to make his debut for the Stags tonight against the Tigers, League Cup winners in 2013.
The 32-year-old, who has played mostly in the lower divisions in Brazil, has never played outside his country and is still learning English from teammate Rodrigo Tosi.
His arrival comes after custodians Sim and Siddiq failed to convince for Tampines since the season kicked off in February.
When asked if having a goalkeeper use up one of five foreigner slots might prove a disadvantage for the Stags, coach Sundram was tongue in cheek in his reply.
"When you think of what (Singapore goalkeeper) Izwan (Mahbud) did in Japan, you can't say having a good goalkeeper is a disadvantage," he said.
"Rodrigo has looked good in training, but we can't judge him until he plays matches.
"The team have used the break to improve, and I think we'll be better during the second half of the season.
"We were unlucky with some games before, but the players are ready to battle it out, starting with the League Cup."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic admitted his side have the advantage going into the game, but said his charges will not play for a draw.
He said: "We are playing well right now and, honestly, I think we can beat anyone in the league when we are on form.
"When you play against Tampines, no one is ever complacent. There is always extra effort to beat the top club in the Singapore."
In tonight's other match at the Jurong East Stadium, Albirex Niigata take on National Football League side Sporting Westlake in a Group C clash.
Both matches kick off at 8.30pm.