StarHub League Cup Final | Jalan Besar Stadum | Fri 25 July | 8pm
David vs Goliath
The naysayers have talked this affair down as the the poorer cousin to the more highly-regarded Singapore Cup. The finalists will not care – the League Cup still represents a fantastic opportunity to win silverware and line their coffers (SGD30,000 will be awarded to the winners).
Since its inauguration in 2007, this competition has traditionally provided a chance for lower-ranked teams to shine and foreign clubs to pick up their first trophy in Singapore. That was the case for the 2007 and 2008 champions, Woodlands Wellington and Gombak United respectively while the next three years provided joy for foreign sides Brunei DPMM, Etoile and Albirex Niigata (Singapore).
DPMM are the overhelming favourites for this clash. Top of the S.League, semi-finalists in the Singapore Cup and now finalists in the League Cup – 2014 has been a spectacular year. Statistics do not lie – they have the most number of wins (12) in the league, scored the most (42 goals in 18 matches, with the league’s top-scorer, Rodrigo Tosi, notching 16 goals) and conceded the least goals (15).
Numbers aside, keen observers of the league have noticed how much DPMM have improved from last season. Former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean came in and improved fitness levels across the board, with the club overwhelming opponents with pace and power.
There is quality all over the pitch, with Wardun Yussof imperious in goal, Bosnian international Boris Raspudic adding steel at the back, as Roberto Alviz and captain Rosmin Kamis a formidable midfield pairing. Winger Azwan Ali has also been a relevation on the left wing with his electrifying runs, while Roy O'Donovan and Tosi form the most potent striker partnership in Singapore at the moment. Tosi is missing due to suspension though, and it will be interesting to see how the Bruneians cope.
Meanwhile, in the Tanjong Pagar camp, confidence levels have risen with this fairytale run to the final. The form book was tossed right out of the window this month, as the team with the third-worst defence and joint-second worst attack in the league upset the odds.
Hitman Monsef Zerka's form has been patchy at stages - the Moroccan has only managed half of his 20 goal tally from last season, but it was the Jaguars' dire luck with injuries that affected them the most. Tanjong Pagar had up to six first-team players ruled out at one stage, but the squad is now almost fully fit and raring to go. This might account for the tremendous turnaround, with the team inexplicably boasting the best defensive record in this competition - one goal conceded in 330 minutes of action so far.
Credit has to be given to goalkeeper Aurelien Herisson, who has been rock-solid between the sticks when called upon – pulling off two mighty saves in the penalty shootout that eventually settled the semi-final against Hougang. Vice-captain Hafiz Osman has also been a colossal figure at the back and it is definitely a big blow that he will miss the Final. The attacking burden will fall on the shoulders of a rejuvinated Ahmad Latiff, with the 35-year-old impressing in an advanced position just behind Zerka and bagging three goals in the League Cup so far. The fans have been delighted with his form so far, and will hope another masterful performance will give them an edge.
Tanjong Pagar (4-2-3-1): Aurelien Herisson (GK); Nor Azli Yusoff, Hanafi Salleh, Anthony Aymard, Zahid Ahmad; Tengku Mushadad, Sazali Salleh; Kamel Ramdani, Ahmad Latiff (captain), Sebastien Etiemble; Monsef Zerka
DPMM (4-4-2): Wardun Yussof (GK); Joe Gamble, Abdul Aziz Tamit, Boris Raspudic, Azwan Saleh; Hendra Azam, Rosmin Kamis (captain), Roberto Alviz, Azwan Ali; O’Donovan, Adi Said
Key Battle: Aurelien Herisson vs Roy O'Donovan
It has been a dream tournament for the Tanjong Pagar custodian so far, with his performances prompting his coach to call him ‘one of the best keepers in Singapore’. He can go a long way to vindicating his coach’s faith in him – Herisson will be facing off against O’Donovan, one of the top strikers in the league.
In the absence of Tosi, DPMM’s goalscoring hopes lie almost entirely on the shoulders of the 28-year-old. Although the former Sunderland striker has scored a truckload of goals this year, this will be one of the rare occasions where he has to cope without his regular partner-in-crime. As one of the frontrunners for the Golden Boot this tournament, O'Donovan will be keen to show that he can perform equally well without Tosi.
Key Battle II: Ahmad Latiff vs Boris Raspudic
This could be a blockbuster clash. After missing the semi-final through suspension, Jaguars captain Latiff will be keen to show that his goalscoring form in the earlier stages of the competition is no fluke. So far the veteran has proved to be a good foil in attack, with his intelligent late runs into the box causing problems for opposing defenders.
On Friday night, he will come up against a very tough opponent in Raspudic. The 31-year-old is one of the most aggressive defenders in the league with superb aerial ability to match. He is a key reason why DPMM have the best defensive record in the league this year.
It should be a treat for the neutrals to see two very committed players go head-to-head.
The Coaches - Two gaffers with a point to prove
Patrick Vallee was welcomed into the Jaguars hot seat last year with a proven pedigree. He had previously led Etoile FC to the double in their first year, pipping Tampines Rovers to the title as well as overcoming Woodlands to lift the League Cup back in 2010.
Returning to France to coach unfancied French fourth-division club AFC Compiegne, the 52-year-old managed to inspire his side to hold Ligue 1 side Lille in an Coupe de France (French League Cup) encounter before losing narrowly to an 115th-minute goal. Well-known for his winning mentality, it must hurt to see his side struggling in the league after an impressive season last year where they finished 6th. A shock League Cup triumph will go a long way in restoring the Frenchman’s pride.
Meanwhile it has been smooth sailing so far for Steve Kean in his Southeast Asia adventure. After a failed stint at Blackburn Rovers which saw his reputation take quite of a battering, he has been steadily rebuilding his reputation over in the Sultanate.
The decision to re-introduce gym work for the local players has been a resounding success with DPMM now one of the fittest sides in the league. The 46-year-old has always cut a calm and collected figure at press conferences, regardless of results. Apart from charming the media, it seems like he is also in the good books of the Crown Prince of Brunei, Royal Highness Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, with the duo having regular weekly meetings. Picking up some silverware in his short reign in charge will no doubt strengthen his position in the Wasps hot seat.
Facts and figures
- Only two finals have gone to extra-time. Both were eventually settled by penalties, with DPMM edging SAFFC (now Warriors FC) in 2009 and Albirex edging Hougang in 2011.
- This is DPMM’s fourth final and third in successive years – they picked up the trophy in 2009 and 2012, finishing runners-up in 2013.
- 6 members of the DPMM starting eleven from 2009 are still in the squad – Wardun, Rosmin, Subhi Abdilah, Sairol Sahari, Azwan Saleh and Shahrazen Said (Helmi Zambin was on the bench).
- Tanjong Pagar midfielder Tengku Mushadad could become the only player to lift the trophy successive times with different clubs – he was part of the Balestier squad that thrashed DPMM in the final last year.
- If Tanjong Pagar win, it will be the first time lifting the League Cup – it will also be their first piece of silverware since their 1998 Singapore Cup triumph.
- Tanjong Pagar coach Patrick Vallee could become the only man to lift the trophy with two different clubs – he was at the helm for Etoile FC’s victory in 2010.
DPMM’s all-round quality should overwhelm the Jaguars. 2-0, with Kean lifting his first trophy in Singapore.