Tampines Rovers and Lion City Sailors in for stellar SPL meeting
Meeting of two title-contenders with the opportunity to stake an early claim for the SPL crown
Much of the Singapore Premier League title talk has involved last season's runners-up Tampines Rovers and the big-spending Lion City Sailors.
Tonight's encounter between them at Our Tampines Hub - a closed-door affair due to the coronavirus outbreak - is an opportunity to lay down an early marker.
|TAMPINES ROVERS||LION CITY SAILORS|
Pundits have rated the Stags and the Sailors as the second and third favourites for the title respectively. Defending champions Brunei DPMM were installed the odds-on favourites to retain their title.
But, speaking to The New Paper ahead of the game, Stags coach Gavin Lee was keen to play down the significance of the clash.
He said: "I don't agree it's between us and them. I think there are other contenders that we can't exclude.
"But, without over-hyping this game, I think it will be a good game between two good teams who want to play good football.
"And of course, from a football perspective, these are the kind of games you want to have a good crowd because of the talents involved, but it is what it is.
"We have to ensure we put health and safety first. We will approach it like every game and the players will be focused on the task."
With some of the league's top players like Shahdan Sulaiman, Kyoga Nakamura, Jordan Webb and Gabriel Quak on show, the football community is looking forward to the match.
Duncan Elias, a former player who's now an SPL presenter, said it feels like the biggest game of the season so far.
The 34-year-old added: "I think Tampines have found their groove already and, for the Sailors, the rest (after their last game) could be good for them.
"Two heavyweights that are going head to head, I think it could be a fantastic match."
While the Stags are going into their ninth match of the season because of their continental exertions, this will be only the second outing for the Sailors, Singapore's first privatised football club.
Previously known as Home United, they were held 1-1 by the unfancied Tanjong Pagar United in their first match 12 days ago.
Despite the draw, Sailors coach Aurelio Vidmar is happy with what he saw from his side and wants more of the same.
"I was quite satisfied with how we played the game. We created plenty of chances but we didn't finish them," he said.
"The goalkeeper (Kenji Rusydi) had a Man-of-the-Match performance. And that will happen sometimes but we had more than enough chances to win the game...
"The process has been to continue doing what we have been doing.
" Tampines present a big test. Pundits and the media saying Tampines and us are favourites are just exterior talk.
"They are a good footballing side, so we do expect a high-level game. We are focused on doing our very best in every game that we play."
The Stags will be without the suspended duo of Yasir Hanapi and Taufik Suparno, while defender Madhu Mohana is out with an injury.
Vidmar has a full-strength side to choose from.
Both coaches will have their hands full in trying to stop the opponents' danger man.
In Boris Kopitovic, the Sailors face an attacker who has five goals this season.
Said Vidmar: "Look, they have a lot of good players and of course Boris is one of them. He gets good service from his midfielders, is strong in the air.
"We have to be wary of that but he's not the only one that we have to worry about."
The Stags know all too well the danger that their former star player Shahdan poses.
Said Lee: "Shahdan is a good player and, of course, we know that but, then again, we cannot just focus on one player.
"We need a broader game plan and we know that, to stop them, we need to impose ourselves as early as we can."
Tonight's other game:
- Balestier Khalsa v Hougang United (7.45pm)