Bali United vs Tampines Rovers: Stags to fly Singapore flag high in popular tourist destination
A face-off between the runners-up of Singapore’s S.League and Indonesia’s Liga 1.
BALI UNITED FORM
- Bali 3-0 Gresik United (Liga 1)
- PSM 0-1 Bali (Liga 1)
- Bali 3-2 Sriwijaya (Liga 1)
- Barito Putera 1-1 Bali (Liga 1)
- Bali 2-1 PS TNI (Liga 1)
With its many beaches and picturesque rice fields, Bali is one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations. However, Tampines Rovers are not there on a vacation; they are on a mission to make it into Asia’s elite club competition.
The Stags finished second in the S.League for a third straight year in 2017, but have qualified for this stage as champions Albirex Niigata – feeder club of J2 side Albirex – are not allowed to represent the Republic due to league rules.
Their hosts Bali United also finished runners-up in Liga 1, but will represent Indonesia in this competition as champions Bhayangkara FC failed to meet AFC’s club licensing criteria.
TAMPINES ROVERS' FORM
- Tampines 0-0 Home United (S.League)
- Brunei DPMM 0-5 Tampines (S.League)
- Tampines 3-0 Garena Young Lions (S.League)
- Home United 0-2 Tampines (S.League)
- Geylang International 2-3 Tampines (S.League)
The winner of this clash will jet off to Thailand to take on Thai League 1 side Chiangrai United on January 23.
Whoever prevails will then head to China to meet Chinese Super League outfit Shanghai SIPG – who have prominent Brazilian players like Oscar and Hulk in their ranks – in a final playoff on January 30 to determine who makes it into the tournament proper.
It is a huge challenge for both clubs, who started their pre-season earlier in preparation for this AFC Champions League (ACL) preliminary round one qualifier.
Tampines collected 2-1 and 2-0 friendly wins against Malaysia Premier League side Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II and Eastern rivals Geylang International, while Bali warmed up with a 1-0 loss to newly-promoted Liga 1 side PSIS Semarang.
The big news is that Tampines’ pair of effervescent foreign wingers Jordan Webb and Ryutaro Megumi are out through injury, which means the Stags will field an all-Singaporean side.
Young forwards Faizal Raffi and Taufik Suparno are also unavailable due to a dislocated elbow and National Service respectively.
As such, young winger Zulfadhmi Suzliman – who scored a superb header in the 2-0 win against Geylang last week – and Fazrul Nawaz should line up on the wings either side of Singapore centurion forward Khairul Amri.
They are likely to line up in a 3-4-3 formation again, with the back three of Daniel Bennett, Mustafic Fahrudin and Afiq Yunos in front of new No.1 Syazwan Buhari.
Lilipaly famously scored the Indonesian goal that dumped Singapore out of the 2016 Suzuki Cup
Meanwhile Bali should be able to field a full-strength squad, with Indonesia coach Luis Milla opting not to call up their national team players for Sunday night’s 4-1 friendly defeat to World Cup-bound Iceland.
While they have lost last season’s Liga 1 top scorer Sylvano Comvalius (37 goals) to Thai League 1 side Suphanburi, they have brought in Illja Spasojevic from champions Bhayangkara – who is also a prolific scorer himself.
The Dutch-born Spasojevic, who has three goals in four Indonesia appearances, has just been confirmed as a local player by AFC – allowing Bali to register all four foreign players on their roster.
Dutch midfield duo Nick van der Velden and Kevin Brands had experience playing in the Dutch Eredivisie, while fans in this region will be familiar with Indonesian duo Irfan Bachdim and Stefano Lilipaly.
Key Battle: Stefano Lilipaly vs Yasir Hanapi
The star of Bali ought to be Lilipaly, who famously scored the Indonesia goal that dumped Singapore out of the 2016 Suzuki Cup and played a starring role in their run to the final.
The Dutch-born attacking midfielder, who moved to the club from Dutch second-tier side SC Cambuur last August due to family reasons, has the ability to wreak havoc with his forceful runs from midfield and intricate passes.
Yasir is likely to be the one tasked with stopping Lilipaly, having been fielded in the middle of the park for their two friendlies alongside Amirul Adli.
The 28-year-old, who returned to Tampines from PDRM FA, is not the most skilful of midfielders, but more than makes up for that with his tenacity as he is usually found covering every blade of grass.
Bali’s Widodo Putro is widely known for his exploits as a player – having scored Indonesia’s first-ever goal in the Asian Cup through a bicycle kick in 1996 – but is now carving out a good reputation as a coach.
We’re going to be underdogs. But it’s a situation which we have to live with and I cannot lament anything
The 47-year-old suffered just four losses in 29 games since taking over at the helm last May.
Meanwhile Tampines’ Jurgen Raab has managed to bring a good style of football since being appointed in February 2017.
Now into the second year of his three-year deal at the Stags, the 59-year-old German ought to deliver success for the club, who last won the S.League in 2013.
Firstly, he needs to find a way to navigate past Bali without arguably the team’s two best players in Webb and Megumi.
“Without them, we’re going to be underdogs. But it’s a situation which we have to live with and I cannot lament anything,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge for us and we’ll try our best over there.”
Facts and Figures
- This is the fourth time Tampines are participating in the ACL qualifiers. They fell on their first hurdle on the past three occasions, losing 2-1 (after extra time) to Hong Kong’s South China in 2014, 3-1 to India’s Mohun Bagan in 2016 and 2-0 to Philippines’ Global Cebu in 2017.
- Bali attained the same number of points (68) as champions Bhayangkara, but lost the 2017 Liga 1 title due to an inferior head-to-head record.
- Bali were previously known as Putra Samarinda. Former Singapore winger Ridhuan Muhammad spent half a season on loan there in 2013, while his cousin Fazli Jaffar also underwent trials there.
- Tampines are unbeaten in their last nine competitive outings after losing 4-0 to Albirex last August.
- Bali have not lost in their last five competitive games, since a 3-2 reverse at Persiba Balikpapan in October 2017.
- If Tampines lose, they could be grouped with Malaysia giants Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in Group H of the second-tier AFC Cup.
- Bali midfielder Sutanto Tan was on the books of S.League side Hougang United in 2014.
- Bali’s new Brazilian defender Demerson escaped death in 2016 when he was with Chapecoense, as he did not board the flight that killed 19 of his teammates.
Tampines will battle hard in front of a partisan crowd, but Bali should have the quality to come through with a 2-1 win in regulation time.
Main image: Tampines Rovers Football Club