Stags vow to fight back after AFC Cup loss in first leg
Tampines limit damage by Bengaluru to keep AFC Cup quarter-final tie alive
QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG
BENGALURU FC 1
(C K Vineet 7)
TAMPINES ROVERS 0
Tampines Rovers knew right from the start they had a mountain to climb in their AFC Cup fixture in India.
But it didn't turn out as bad as they thought, after a slender 1-0 loss to Bengaluru at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in their quarter-final first-leg tie yesterday left them with plenty still to play for in next week's return leg.
Considering the circumstances leading up to their game, they could draw plenty of positives from their performance.
The Stags had arrived in Bengaluru just as violent scenes erupted from protests over the Cauvery River water row with neighbouring state Tamil Nadu.
Safety concerns meant they were unable to train at the venue on their first day, with a makeshift session being held in the hotel car park instead,
Yesterday's game was also pushed forward to an afternoon kick-off (local time) behind closed doors.
Stags goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud told The New Paper: "Of course, we're disappointed to lose but the 1-0 scoreline means we definitely have a chance to overturn the deficit back on home soil.
"We just have to keep on believing and, with home advantage, we will go all out for a win next Wednesday."
Although Tampines were missing a couple of key men - the injured Fazrul Nawaz and suspended Shakir Hamzah - they did have a slight advantage in terms of match fitness.
The Indian domestic season had already ended, and their opponents last played a competitive fixture in May.
However, Bengaluru took the lead after just seven minutes, courtesy of a close-range finish by C K Vineet, after Irwan Shah could only prod the ball into his path following a last-ditch tackle to deny Alwyn George a shooting chance.
Jordan Webb wasted a chance to equalise for the Stags two minutes later when he fired wide after a well-worked move but, as the half wore on, it was the hosts who continued to carve out the better openings.
Izwan, arguably his side's best performer, kept the Stags in the game with a couple of smart saves.
The visitors then suffered a big blow when they lost Fahrudin Mustafic to injury in the 21st minute, although Afiq Yunos came on to fill his void capably.
It was in the attacking third where Tampines were really struggling, with Billy Mehmet cutting a lonesome figure up front.
The closest they came to an equaliser was in the 76th minute, when Yasir Hanapi tried his luck with a left-footed curler that had goalkeeper Amrinder Singh scampering towards his far post, only for it to sail inches wide.
With 10 minutes remaining, Bengaluru had one last chance to strengthen their grip on the tie when Sunil Chhetri broke free inside the box.
But Izwan did well to smother his shot and ensure his side retain a fighting chance of a comeback at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Said Tampines coach Akbar Nawas: "Definitely the tie is still there for the taking but if we are to have a chance of overturning the deficit, there is no doubt we'll have to improve in many aspects.
"We have to be better in our one-on-one duels but I have confidence the boys will step up and do all they can to take us through to the semis."
- BENGALURU: Amrinder Singh, Rino Anto, John Johnson, Juanan, Nishu Kumar (Lalchhuan Mawia 56), Alwyn George (Udanta Singh 76), Alvaro Rubio, Cameron Watson, Eugeneson Lyngdoh (Malswamzuala 84), C K Vineet, Sunil Chhetri.
- TAMPINES ROVERS: Izwan Mahbud, Ismadi Mukhtar, Fahrudin Mustafic (Afiq Yunos 21), Jufri Taha, Irwan Shah, Yasir Hanapi, Izzdin Shafiq, Jordan Webb, Jermaine Pennant, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Billy Mehmet.
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Izwan Mahbud (Tampines Rovers)