Tampines see off Ceres and make Singapore Cup final

Tampines Rovers had to dig deep to earn a 3-2 extra-time win over Ceres La Salle at Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday evening. 

The result ensured the Stags will make their first Singapore Cup final appearance in four years, after a 5-3 semi-final win on aggregate over the invited club.

Looking back at the game, the Stags were perhaps a tad lucky to make the final as Ceres played a majority of extra-time with nine men.

Paul Mulders was sent off in the 82nd minute while Patrick Reichelt's injury in the 98th minute meant that Ceres had to play with two man down after using all their substitutes.

Things could have been much easier for Tampines, had Afiq Yunos converted Ismadi Mukhtar's cross from close range in the fourth minute but the defender could only stab just wide.

That miss meant Ceres were only facing a one-goal deficit on aggregate, and they duly poured forward in pursuit of an equalising goal.

Them being one man down contributed, but our players also reacted well

- Tampines head coach Akbar

Manuel Ott and Reichelt came close in the 12th and 13th minute, but both times their efforts flashed just wide the post.

The opener finally came on the stroke of half-time, after Ceres were awarded a penalty.

Ott drew a fine save out from Izwan Mahbud and in the follow-up shot, Afiq was adjudged to have handled the ball while attempting to block the striker's effort.

After the break, Ceres could have gone ahead on aggregate, only for Reichelt to run through on goal and fire against the post in the 55th minute.

It was a miss the striker would regret, as Tampines equalised in the game and took the lead on aggregate again just a minute later.

Billy Mehmet cushioned a long ball with his chest onto Hafiz Sujad's path and the latter calmly slotted past Louie Casas.

However, Ceres levelled matters again in the 78th minute, as Reichelt stabbed home Jeffery Christiaens' cross.

The Filipino side then went a man down in the 84th minute, after Mulders saw red for a second bookable offence.

Tampines could have snatched victory at the death, but Casas thwarted Hafiz at point-blank range to send the game into extra-time.

Despite being a man down, Ceres still gave it a real go and could have scored right from the restart after Arnie Jr. Pasinabo broke the offside trap but Izwan put in a great save to deny him.

In the 92nd minute, Biienvenido Morejon spotted Izwan off his line and went for goal from 40 yards out but the goalkeeper managed to get back in time to prevent the ball from going in.

But things swung in Tampines' favour after eight minutes of play, with Reichelt stretchered off due to a knee injury.

We played a good game and I think we showed everybody we could play

- Ceres head coach Go

With a two-man advantage, it was no surprise Tampines duly took the lead just before half-time in extra-time as Irwan Shah found Afiq Yunos with a cross and the defender headed into the top corner.

The game was all but over in the 112nd minute, as Jordan Webb sprinted away from his marker and found an unmarked Saifullah Akbar in the box. The substitute needed no invitation to send the ball past a despairing Casas.

Tampines head coach Akbar Nawas admitted after the game that the Stags were helped by Mulder's sending off and Reichelt's injury, but he believed his side did well to capitalise on their advantage.

"Ecstatic, definitely a wonderful feeling to win this game," Akbar said. "We were able to score a goal cause they were a man down.

"But the patience was what counted. Them being one man down contributed, but our players also reacted well."

Ceres head coach Ali Go was disappointed the club's journey in the Singapore Cup ended, but he felt his side acquitted themselves well throughout this tournament.

"For us it was a good tournament. We played a good game and I think we showed everybody we could play.

"I think the boys did everything they could."

Photos: Lim Weixiang/FFT