Selangor vs Tampines Rovers: Can Stags spring surprise in Malaysia?
Tampines’ toughest AFC Cup test so far.
After their 4-0 whitewash of Bangladeshi debutants Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi in their opener two weeks ago, Tampines Rovers face a more formidable threat in their second group game away to Selangor FA.
The Stags remain unbeaten in the S.League after their first three games, although they only won one of those. Marquee signing Jermaine Pennant is off the mark, having scored in the last two matches, and is starting to find his feet here.
The former Arsenal and Liverpool winger looks to have struck up a promising partnership with fellow attackers Jordan Webb and Billy Mehmet, going so far as to term themselves the league’s equivalent of Barcelona’s MSN (Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar).
Meanwhile, the Red Giants have made a promising start to the new Malaysia Super League campaign and are similarly undefeated.
They sit top after four games, ahead of defending champions Johor Darul Ta’ziim on goal difference.
They did suffer a setback in the FA Cup following an embarrassing third-round exit to PDRM despite fielding their strongest line-up in a 2-1 loss.
Selangor are also searching for their first win in this competition, having stumbled to an away 2-2 draw against Ceres-La Salle in their opener.
This game will be their eighth in 23 days and such a tough schedule will likely take a toll on them as well.
This was telling in the game against PDRM, as the team – especially the engine room of Hafiz Kamal and Nazmi Faiz – looked particularly tired.
Selangor FA Form
- 04/03/16 PDRM 2-1 Selangor (FA Cup)
- 01/03/16 Selangor 4-2 Sarawak (MSL)
- 27/02/16 Pahang 1-3 Selangor (MSL)
- 23/02/16 Ceres-La Salle 2-2 Selangor (AFC)
- 19/02/16 AirAsia FC 0-2 Selangor (FA Cup)
Tampines Rovers Form
- 03/03/16 Home United 1-1 Tampines Rovers (S.League)
- 26/02/16 Tampines Rovers 4-1 Hougang United (S.League)
- 23/02/16 Tampines Rovers 4-0 Sheikh Jamal (AFC Cup)
- 15/02/16 Tampines Rovers 3-3 Geylang International (S.League)
- 30/01/16 Tampines 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (Friendly)
It is not looking so good for Selangor on this front, after their recent spate of games.
Towering centre-back Robert Cornthwaite has not featured in the past two weeks due to injury and is unlikely to do so here. Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Andik Vermansyah have been missing games too and are unlikely to start.
It is unlikely that Zainal Abidin Hassan will rotate his squad too much despite their tight schedule of games, given the strong opposition here.
Tampines have no injury worries at the moment, with Hafiz Sujad in line for a starting place having sat out their last game against Home United.
V. Sundramoorthy has good squad depth at his disposal and some fresh legs could give them a vital edge in Selangor.
Key Battle: Patrick ‘Ronaldinho’ Wleh vs Afiq Yunos
With seven goals in as many games for Selangor, it is not difficult to see why Patrick Wleh will be the crucial figure for hosts.
Dubbed “Ronaldinho” for his resemblance in both looks and skills to the famous Brazilian, the 24-year-old is responsible for half of their overall goal tally so far.
On loan from PKNS FC, the 24-year-old Liberian international cannot be left unattended in the box and is capable of fashioning a shot from anywhere, while he is creative enough to set up his team-mates as well.
The task to stop him will most likely fall to Tampines centre-back Afiq Yunos, who has completed both of their continental games this season.
The 25-year-old missed most of last season with the LionsXII due to injury but has regained full fitness after working hard in pre-season, with this match-up shaping up to be his toughest one so far.
The Singapore international has the height and strength to match Wleh but will have to ensure that his positioning and awareness is spot on to prevent the latter from outpacing him.
- 30/04/13 Tampines Rovers 2-3 Selangor (AFC Cup)
- 13/03/13 Selangor 3-3 Tampines Rovers (AFC Cup)
- 02/05/06 Tampines Rovers 3-2 Selangor (AFC Cup)
- 07/03/06 Selangor 1-0 Tampines Rovers (AFC Cup)
Zainal Abidin Hassan took former club Pahang FA to second place in the league last season, but they were then docked six points – ironically resulting in current club Selangor leaping to the runners-up spot and taking their place in the AFC Cup.
The 54-year-old former Malaysian international, capped over a hundred times, will give his team license to attack at will in what will only be their second home game this season.
With Wleh leading the line and the likes of Hafiz Kamal and R. Gopinathan making up the supply line, expect Selangor to go for goals.
V. Sundramoorthy is no stranger to his counterpart, having faced off against him during his LionsXII days when Zainal was assistant at Pahang FA.
It will be interesting to see whether the shrewd tactician will revert to a back three, as he did in the first game against Sheikh Jamal; regardless, he is likely to want to keep things tight at the back as a priority.
However, that is not necessarily a negative game-plan as Tampines have the ability to counter-attack with real danger, made possible by the pace and skill of Webb and Pennant, and Mehmet’s targetman qualities.
With Shahdan Sulaiman and Pennant on set-piece duties, there will be a real menace to free-kicks and corners too.
Facts and Figures
Selangor have conceded first in each of their last four games and in five of their seven matches this season (W2 D2 L1).
Both Selangor and Tampines have scored in all their games - seven and five respectively - this season.
Hafiz Kamal has netted two free-kicks this season - as has Jermaine Pennant.
Billy Mehmet has two goals and five assists in four games for Tampines in all competitions.
Selangor are a daunting proposition at home but fatigue could be a factor here. Fancy Tampines to nick a good away point here in a thriller. 2-2.