Mohun Bagan vs Tampines Rovers: Can Stags give Sundram the perfect send-off?
Moment of truth for Tampines Rovers’ class of 2016.
Mohun Bagan Form
Mohun Bagan 5-0 Aizawl (Federation Cup)
Shillong Lajong 0-0 Mohun Bagan (Federation Cup)
Mohun Bagan 0-3 South China (AFC Cup)
Mohun Bagan 5-0 Shillong Lajong (Federation Cup)
Mohun Bagan 4-0 Salgaocar (Federation Cup)
Tampines Rovers Form
Warriors FC 0-0 Tampines (S.League)
Tampines 1-2 Home United (S.League)
Tampines 1-0 Selangor FA (S.League)
Hougang United 1-1 Tampines (S.League)
Tampines 4-2 Warriors FC (S.League)
This is arguably the biggest match of the season to date as far as Tampines are concerned, but it has been significantly overshadowed by the proceedings off the pitch.
The headlines have instead been dominated by coach V Sundramoorthy’s impending departure from the club to take up the Singapore national team post, with chairman Krishna Ramachandra confirming that this will be the 50-year-old’s final game in charge of the game.
While it will surely be an emotional 90 minutes in store for the Dazzler, the players ought to focus on the game itself and rise to the occasion.
The Stags created waves in pre-season by bringing in eight former LionsXII players as well as former Arsenal and Liverpool star Jermaine Pennant, but results on the pitch have been mixed to say the least.
In the league, they have been far from convincing with a three-match winless run putting them seven points behind relentless leaders Albirex Niigata (S).
In a nutshell, the class of 2016 Stags should have plenty to prove when they face off against India’s Mohun Bagan for a place in the last eight of the AFC Cup.
At the other camp, it has been a topsy-turvy season for the Mariners.
While they lost their I-League crown to Bengaluru FC by a difference of two points, Mohun managed to redeem themselves over the weekend by easily drubbing Aizawl 5-0 to claim their record 14th Federation Cup.
Sanjoy Sen’s side have lesser time to rest and recuperate as compared to Tampines, who last played a week ago, but they are buoyed by homeground advantage.
The Mariners are the clear favourites for this game, given that they have the psychological edge of beating Tampines 3-1 in their earlier meeting in January for the AFC Champions League playoffs.
Unfortunately, Tampines will be missing the services of a few key players.
Yasir Hanapi, who scored a blinder against Selangor to put them through to this stage, is ruled out through suspension.
Similarly, chief forward Billy Mehmet will miss out due to his late red card for an off-the-ball incident in the same game.
Playmaker Shahdan Sulaiman is a long-term injury victim, but at least they can call on Canadian forward Jordan Webb, who looked fine in his 18-minute cameo in the 0-0 draw against Warriors FC last Tuesday.
Meanwhile Mohun Bagan will be missing several players too. Sony Norde has been called up to Haiti's Copa America squad while former Sanfreece Hiroshima midfielder Katsumi Yusa is injured.
Expect the towering 1.86m Brazilian defender Luciano Sabrosa and former Trinidad and Tobago international forward Cornell Glen to start though.
Key Battle: Mustafic Fahrudin vs Jeje Lalpekhlua
While the focus will understandably be on Mohun Bagan’s foreign quartet, Tampines will also need to be careful of the in-form local forward Lalpekhlua.
The 25-year-old India international, who scored eight goals this season including two in the final to inspire the Mariners to their Federation Cup triumph, is not just lethal in front of goal but also has the pace to burn.
The onus will be on Tampines captain Mustafic to stop the former in his tracks.
While the 35-year-old may have lost a yard of pace or two, he proved that he is still very much capable at this level by expertly marking out Selangor’s Liberian hot shot Patrick “Ronaldinho” Wleh the last time out in the AFC Cup.
As mentioned, this will be V Sundramoorthy’s last game in charge of Tampines so he will definitely be looking to end his one-and-a-half-year reign on a high.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen is looking to make a breakthrough at the continental level with the club – having already won a couple of domestic trophies since taking over in December 2014.
Mohun Bagan 3-1 Tampines (ACL Qualifiers, Jan ’16)
Tampines 2-0 Mohun Bagan (AFC Cup, May ’07)
- Mohun Bagan 0-0 Tampines (AFC Cup, Mar ’07)
Facts and Figures
Mohun Bagan have a decent overall home record in the AFC Cup, with four wins and one draw from nine matches.
On the other hand, Tampines’ overall away record in the AFC Cup reads eight wins, five draws and 14 losses.
Tampines have tasted victory in India before, after emphatically thrashing Pune FC 5-2 in the group stages of the 2014 AFC Cup.
Close but no cigar. Mohun Bagan should be a class above Tampines and it will show in a routine 2-0 victory.
Photos: Weixiang Lim / FourFourTwo