Singapore League Cup Final: Tanjong Pagar 0 Brunei DPMM 2
One down, two more to go.
Season 2013 was a disastrous season, in regards to the high standards of DPMM, as the Wasps laboured to an eighth-place finish.
They had a chance to salvage some pride by retaining the League Cup, but Vjeran Simunic’s side was stunned by a powerful Balestier Khalsa side which put four unanswered goals past them.
Fast forward to July 2014, things are now all so different for DPMM. The belief, confidence and most importantly swagger is back. Steve Kean’s emphasis on fitness has morphed them into one of the fittest teams in the league, while his modern coaching methods have added a new dimension to their style of play.
That has fuelled hopes of doing something which seemed impossible a year ago – doing the Singapore Treble. They still have to navigate 12 more games (9 in the league, 3 in the Singapore Cup) to achieve that dream, but this latest League Cup victory has perhaps given them the impetus to go all the way.
Admittedly they were not on their best against surprise finalists Tanjong Pagar last night, but ultimately they showed what championship-winning teams are all about – winning games without getting out of first gear.
Missing their Brazilian talisman Rodrigo Tosi, Kean chose to deploy Adi Said upfront with Roy O’Donovan. While Adi was clearly fired up as he carved open a number of opportunities by himself, the chemistry between him and O’Donovan was clearly lacking.
While the strike partnership did not really work out, Kean’s another experiment worked to a treat. The precocious Azwan Ali was given a role behind the two forwards and his roving runs forced the Tanjong Pagar defenders to peg back. With the freedom that comes with his new-found role, he shifted himself back to his favoured left wing position at times to support attacking full-back Azwan Saleh.
With the right-side of the Jaguars defence overworked at times, it was no wonder the deadlock was broken via an attack from that flank. Forced to concede a corner minutes after the half-hour mark, they were made to paid as Boris Raspudic rose the highest to nod home Hendra Azam’s precise delivery.
It was a fantastic night for the Balkan defender, as he and fellow centre-back Abdul Aziz Tamit gave little room for the Jaguars forwards to manoeuvre. There were a couple of close shaves in front of Wardun Yussof’s goal but that was about it from Patrick Vallee’s side in the first half, as they went into the dressing room a goal down.
The deficit was still very much still in reach, but DPMM threw any tactical plans, which Vallee has for his side, out of the window.
Barely a minute plus after the restart, the Wasps went on the attack and got the crucial second goal. Once again, it was the link-up between the two Azwans which led to the killer move. Receiving a slide-rule pass from Saleh, Ali went on his trademark nippy run down the left before setting up Adi for a thumping finish inside Aurelien Herisson’s near post.
That gave the Bruneians some breathing space as they sat back for the final 30 minutes. The Jaguars called upon impact substitutes Asraf Rashid and Firdaus Idros thereafter, as they searched to find a lifeline through the flanks.
The duo’s introduction made the difference as they kept piling on the pressure. Idros had a goal denied by the offside flag before seeing his close-range effort denied by the superb reflexes of Wardun.
The 27-year-old then skinned Azwan Saleh down the right and laid the ball across goal for Asraf, but the latter’s firm side-foot drive was well held again by Wardun.
It was Idros again in the closing stages as he forced a foul from Roberto Alviz on the edge of the box. However Wardun capped his superb night off by pulling off a superb double save – firstly getting his fingertips to flick Sebastien Etiemble’s freekick onto the bar before sprawling across the turf to push away Latiff’s follow-up header.
Eventually, time ran out for the luckless Jaguars as DPMM staved off the pressure to clinch the 2014 League Cup final at their expense. While it might not have been one more of their more masterful displays, Kean’s men will care little as they savoured the smell of silverware once more.
This could just be the prelude of what’s more to come at the business end of the season.
Image Credit: Alson Ong