Team of the Week - S.League Rd 19
After a month-long hiatus, it was an exciting return to S.League action as the title race took on more twists and turns. Tampines Rovers closed the gap between them and leaders Brunei DPMM to just one point, while Hougang United continued to impress with a 2-2 draw away in Bandar Seri Begawan. So who are the standout performers over the past week? We FFT writers crack our heads…
It wasn’t an easy choice this week for the star man between the sticks.
A total of three goalkeepers kept shutouts but only one of them truly stood out. Justin Pasfield kept up his good form for Tampines Rovers with his fourth clean sheet since joining the club in mid-season, but he wasn’t troubled much against Woodlands Wellington.
Courts Young Lions’ Syazwan Buhari similarly wasn’t really called upon against Harimau Muda, but his opposite counterpart Ilham Amirullah really stole the show during the Causeway derby on Sunday evening.
Often having to battle Ahmad Solehin Mamat for first-team appearances, Ilham showed why he has the potential to be the No. 1 for the young Tigers. The 20-year-old was safe when called upon — coming out to collect a number of high balls as well as thwarting Jordan Webb on numerous occasions when the latter was through on goal.
His solid display earned praise from his coach Razip Ismail who claimed that the custodian saved his team’s blushes on the night.
Meanwhile Fadhil Salim can count himself unlucky to miss out this week after another stupendous display in goal for Hougang United.
Facing off against the league’s most fearsome strikeforce in DPMM, the 31-year-old was at his athletic best to deny the likes of Roy O’Donovan, Azwan Ali and Adi Said. While he eventually conceded two against the latter, he was not to be blamed for both goals.
Similarly it was difficult to make a case for the defence. While three teams kept clean sheets this week, no defender from these teams stood out enough for selection.
Facing off against the ever-dangerous likes of Nicolas Velez and Miroslav Pejic, Albirex Niigata (Singapore)’s defensive duo of Shohei Hotta and Norihiro Kawakami came up tops. The 25-year-old kept up his good form this season by being a rock in defence and virtually unbeatable in one-on-one encounters with the Warriors forwards.
Meanwhile the latter seemed to have settled well back in the White Swans set-up, after some torrid form for Tampines earlier in the season. The 27-year-old also provided the assist for Keisuke Ota’s equalizer.
One key asset for any defender is perhaps the ability to fill in across the back four and Balestier Khalsa’s Nurullah Hussein epitomized that versatility perfectly. A left-back by trade, he was pushed into the heart of defence midway through the season after captain Paul Cunningham sustained a long-term injury.
That is clearly not his natural position, but it seems like he is truly blossoming into a fine centre-back. Surviving a bruising battle against big Geylang International forwards like Leonel Felice and Thorsten Schneider, the slightly-built 21-year-old showed good reading of the game and won a few battles in the air.
The last slot in defence goes to the ever-impressive Sirina Camara who showed his class yet again in Home United’s narrow away win in Queenstown.
Going forward and lashing home a neat finish beyond Aurelien Herisson early on, the 23-year-old went through the 90 minutes with minimal fuss again. He dominated his flank; getting on the overlap whenever possible and shackled the opposition wingers that came his way. Camara has perhaps showed Bernd Stage why he is the best candidate to take the left-back position against Juventus next Saturday.
Worthy mention also goes to Tampines Rovers’ Abdil Qaiyyim, who has struck up a good partnership with Kunihiro Yamashita in recent weeks, and aided the Stags in stopping their leaky ways from earlier on this season.
Tampines have pulled themselves back into the title race in recent weeks and no small part is due to Shahdan Sulaiman. Captaining the side in the absence of Fahrudin Mustafic, the 26-year-old bossed the middle of the park and was involved in both goals which led to the downfall of Woodlands Wellington.
First it was a rasping 30-yard drive which went in off Ahmadulhaq Che Omar’s bar, before a superb defence-splitting pass that led to rookie Christopher Van Huizen scoring his first ever competitive goal. More of such displays will come in handy in the Stags’ bid for their fourth successive title.
It is never easy coming away from Bandar Seri Begawan with something, but Hougang United did just that this week. Credit has to go to the two unsung heroes Nurhilmi Jasni and Firman Hanif in pulling off this result.
The former was his usual energetic self down the right; keeping DPMM left back Azwan Saleh busy before nodding them into the lead minutes after the break. Meanwhile the latter made full use of his surprise start by impressing in an unfamiliar position.
A centre-back by trade, the 22-year-old was deployed in the middle of the park alongside Shunsuke Nakatake and did well to stifle the likes of Roberto Alviz and Rosmin Kamis.
Kim Minho squeezed himself into this four-man midfield after playing a pivotal role in Balestier’s 2-1 win against Geylang on Thursday evening.
In the absence of Park Kang-Jin, the 23-year-old played in the hole behind Goran Ljubojevic as his clever movement on and off the ball caused all sorts of trouble for the Eagles. Holding off Ridhuan Muhammad and latching on to Muhaymin Salim’s long ball, Kim poked the Tigers into the lead just before the break.
He was at it again for the second goal as his follow-up run from Ljubojevic’s pass distracted the Geylang backline en route to Zulkiffli Hassim scoring the winner.
Tanjong Pagar’s Sebastien Etiemble can count himself unlucky to miss out this week after a good display against Home saw him producing a cool finish beyond Shahril Jantan’s reach, while Harimau Muda’s Shahrul Igwan warrants a mention for his constant bombing runs down the right against the Young Lions.
It was a tough week for the forwards, with only one player scoring more than a single goal.
That man is Adi Said, who transformed the game as a second-half substitute and nearly single-handedly won the game for DPMM. Fresh from his exploits in the League Cup final, the 23-year-old’s acceleration and sharpness in front of goal broke the resistance of the Hougang defence.
First he nodded home the equalizer from Azwan Ali’s corner, before thumping home a brilliant angled drive beyond the reach of Fadhil on 86 minutes. While he was eventually denied match-winning honours, he at least has the reprieve of being included in this TOTW.
The man who denied Adi that honour was Geison Moura. The 28-year-old has been one of the revelations of this season and he continued to show why he is so highly rated.
First it was a surging run down the left to set up Diego Gama en route to Hougang’s first goal, before a brilliant piece of improvisation saw the Cheetahs steal an unlikely late point. Watching the leather all the way from Wahyudi Wahid’s long throw to Syaqir Sulaiman’s flick to Erwan Gunawan’s missed contact, the Brazilian swivelled and came up with a superb hooked volley inside Wardun Yussof’s near post.
That goal saw the Brazilian increase his tally to 14 goals for the season, two behind joint-top scorers Kazuki Sakamoto and Rodrigo Tosi.
The last slot in attack goes to Kazuya Okazaki for being the architect behind Albirex’s come-from-behind victory against the Warriors. The 23-year-old provided the guile in the White Swans’ attack and was at the heart of the two deciding goals.
A neat lofted pass over the top created the space for Sakamoto to dink the ball over Hassan Sunny late in the first half, before a clever give-and-go set up Kento Nagasaki for the killer goal.
Bruno Castanheira will probably also feel disappointed not to be included this week after his match-winning exploits for Home.