Tampines urge youngsters to step up in League Cup contest
Coach Akbar urges youngsters to make full use of first-team opportunity
GROUP A TAMPINES ROVERS v HOUGANG UNITED
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jurong West Stadium)
He will be without seven first-team players for The New Paper League Cup, which Tampines Rovers have never won before.
But Tampines coach Akbar Nawas remains optimistic about the Stags' chances in the competition, which kicks off tonight.
S.League title contenders Tampines will have to cope without the services of Singapore internationals Izwan Mahbud, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Shakir Hamzah, Izzdin Shafiq, Yasir Hanapi and Fazrul Nawaz, when they take on Hougang United in a Group A clash at the Jurong West Stadium.
"Definitely, it will be tough without our key players," said Akbar yesterday.
"But we will make do with the players we have. This is also a good chance for those who do not get much playing time in the S.League and also for some of our Prime League players who will be on the bench or even thrown into the starting 11 to step up and hopefully show us what they can do."
Among the players eager to prove their worth against Hougang is Akbar's son, Saifullah Akbar.
The 17-year-old starred alongside Ikhsan Fandi in last year's Lion City Cup and impressed during a one-month training stint with A-League side Newcastle Jets, but has yet to feature for the senior team.
The Prime League player is expected to start in the middle of the park with Yasir and Izzdin missing out and is relishing his chance to get a taste of first-team action.
"I would by lying if I said I am not nervous," said Saifullah, before the team's training session at the Jurong West Stadium yesterday.
"But I have been training for around seven months with the first team and I think that I am ready for it.
"I have improved both physically and technically after training with the first team and I feel that this will help me for future games.
"I feel blessed to be given the opportunity to come to Tampines where there are seven national players and many experienced foreign players like Jermaine (Pennant).
"They taught me a lot and I want to continue learning as much as I can while I am here."
DEAL WITH IT
While Akbar admitted there will be pressure on Saifullah to deliver instantly, it is something that the promising midfielder will have to deal with.
"I hope he does not think too much about the match and focuses on his own game," he said.
"Obviously, for a 17-year-old to be starting in his first senior-level game won't be easy but I am confident that he will be able to handle the nerves and, as coaches, we will definitely do our part to help him."
The Stags are still in the hunt for silverware on all four fronts and will go into their match against Hougang on a seven-game winning streak.
DPMM aim for Cup triumph to save season
THANK HEAVENS: Brunei DPMM's Rafael Ramazotti (No. 19) and Paulo Sergio (also kneeling) celebrating after Sergio scored against Warriors FC in a 1-1 draw in May. TNP FILE PHOTO
BRUNEI DPMM v WARRIORS FC (Tonight, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Three days ago, Brunei DPMM forward Paulo Sergio watched on TV as Portugal lifted the European Championship trophy.
Perhaps the 32-year-old would have wondered what might have been, having played alongside some of the Portuguese players previously.
He played alongside the likes of Vierinha and Luis Nani in Portugal's Under-21 side and even partnered superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in Sporting's youth team.
"I felt so proud because I played with quite a few of them," Sergio told TNP last night.
"The Portuguese people deserve this trophy."
Now, Sergio is eyeing some silverware of his own.
DPMM kick off their The New Paper League Cup campaign tonight against Warriors FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium, and their aim is to be in the final on July 30.
Last season's S.League champions have had less reason to smile this term.
Steve Kean's men have disappointed in their title defence - they are 16 points off the pace with eight games left - and were knocked out of the RHB Singapore Cup by Philippines side Ceres la Salle two weeks ago.
But the Bruneian side are record three-time winners of the League Cup (2009, 2012, 2014) and are aiming for a fourth triumph.
"This League Cup is very important for us because we know that this is our only realistic chance to win something," said Sergio.
DPMM team manager Ali Momin added: "We hope to win at least one trophy this season.
"We really wanted the RHB Singapore Cup, because that is the only trophy (in Singapore club football) we have not won yet.
"But now we are out, and our chances in the league are slim, so the League Cup is the focus."
DPMM - together with S.League leaders Albirex Niigata, who lifted last year's League Cup and RHB Singapore Cup - have been tipped as the favourites for this year's trophy, as the other six clubs participating will miss local players who have been called up for the national team's training camp in Japan next week.
Tampines Rovers and Geylang International, the two teams affected most, will each be without seven players.
Sergio said: "We should be considered among the favourites not because of this, but because we have proven our quality by winning the S.League last season."
However, Ali warned: "The League Cup is a short tournament, unlike the S.League or even the Singapore Cup which takes place over months.
"Plus, in some cases, the reserve players coming into the teams will be hungry to show what they can do, and might perform very well.
"So we have to be careful."