Tampines Rovers vs Ceres FC: Do-or-die for the Stags in AFC Cup quest
A must-win clash for Tampines to stand a chance of progressing into the Zonal semi-finals.
Things are finely poised in Group G going into this final match day, with all four teams still in with a chance. Philippines' Ceres and Vietnam's Hanoi FC are on eight points, Tampines are on six while Malaysia's Felda United are on five.
It had looked like Tampines' chances of qualification were all but over after just three points from their first four matches, but a surprise 3-1 victory away against Felda meant they somehow got their campaign back on track.
The Stags now need a win against Ceres on Wednesday and hope Felda get a result away at Hanoi to stand a chance of progression.
Finishing top will guarantee them a spot in the next round, while things will be trickier if they get second as they will need to be the 'best' of the three group runners-up. Points against the eventual bottom side will not be counted, based on competition rules.
It will be a tough task with Ceres possessing plenty of firepower in their ranks.
The last time these sides met, Tampines suffered a 5-0 humbling in Bacolod City. The Philippines Football League (PFL) side also put six goals past Hanoi in a 6-2 home victory last time out.
They also have the benefit of a full two-week rest, while Tampines played two league games over the same period.
However, Tampines are buoyed by a four-match winning run in all competitions and should be ready to go for this big clash.
For Tampines, long-term injury victim Fazrul Nawaz continues to miss out while this match may have come too soon for captain Madhu Mohana, who only recently returned to training after a hamstring tear that kept him out of their last four matches.
For Ceres, Manuel Herrera is suspended but Martin Steuble is set to return to the fold.
Key Battle: Khairul Amri vs Roland Muller
As seen in the classy brace against Felda and a late winner against the Garena Young Lions, Amri is very much the man who Tampines look to for inspiration.
The 31-year-old national team centurion is now back to full fitness and will be looking to fire the Stags into the next round.
In his way will be German-born custodian Muller, who earned 22 caps for Philippines from 2011 to 2016 before recently announcing his international retirement.
Juergen Rabb has steadied the ship at Tampines after an inconsistent start to his reign and will be looking to achieve a fifth successive win, while Risto Vidakovic is slowly putting together an exciting Ceres outfit full of attacking talent.
Ceres will surely be one of the favourites to win the new domestic PFL, which is set to kick off this weekend.
Facts and Figures
- Tampines are out to achieve a fifth straight win. Their previous best winning run was an eight-game streak from June to July 2016.
- It is fairly poised in terms of the head-to-head records, with both sides on two wins, one draw and two defeats in five meetings since 2016.
The Stags are in fine form and may just grind out a 2-1 victory. Qualification may still depend on other results though...