Team of the Week - S.League Rd 5
There was plenty of excitement to be had in Round 5 of the S.League, with Tampines Rovers' late late show turning a first defeat of the season into a fifth straight win against a plucky Harimau Muda side. This meant that the Stags are still one of two unbeaten sides along with... Woodlands Wellington, who can't seem to find a way to lose with a dominant goalkeeper between the sticks. Without further ado, we present our Team of the Week nominees, a selection which the FourFourTwo Singapore writers spent sleepless nights agonising over.
In a round where no goalkeeper managed a clean sheet, veteran Woodlands Wellington goalkeeper Yazid Yasin stood out with a series of crucial saves to keep Albirex Niigata (Singapore) at bay until virtually the last kick of the match, a sucker punch of an equaliser in a 1-1 stalemate. This was enough to earn him his second straight TOTW selection, an honour that has much to do with his recent form as it does the team's results.
Also emerging with credit in what has been a tough week for the men between the posts are Geylang International custodian Joey Sim and Tampines Rovers number one Hyrulnizam Juma’at. The former was a calming presence in goal and made a few critical stops to thwart DPMM FC, including a point-blank one-on-one save late in the match to earn the Eagles a share of the spoils.
Hyrulnizam also had plenty of work to do against the marauding young Harimau Muda upstarts from across the causeway to ensure his side would not face an insurmountable task for a dramatic late comeback when they were two goals down for much of the second half. With the makeshift backline on tenterhooks, it was left to the former LionsXII man to carry the team with another inspired performance.
Starting together in defence for the first time this season, Japanese defensive duo of Kento Fukuda and Yuki Ichikawa played starring roles in frustrating Steve Kean’s DPMM and prolonged Geylang International's unbeaten start under new coach Jorg Steinebrunner.
Fukuda was a rock at the heart of the Eagles backline, impressing with his reading of the game and timely tackles to frustrate the DPMM forwards. When fellow centre back Joaquin Lopez was caught out by DPMM's strike duo, the former Albirex centre back was on hand to save the Argentinian’s blushes. Right back Ichikawa gave his side the lead with a header off a free kick inside the box and let little get past him defensively, shackling the Azwans on his flank – left back Azwan Saleh and left midfielder Azwan Ali Rahman.
Despite the travails of the man in the middle threatening to turn Friday’s live match at Jalan Besar Stadium into an informal fight night, Balestier Khalsa centre back Paul Cunningham played the perfect captain’s role to ensure his players' focus stayed on the pitch despite the decimation of his side by the red mist. Alongside his defensive partner Emir Lotinac, the New Zealander kept the Warriors at bay and showed astute vision to score past inexperienced custodian Neezam Aziz late in the game. This vital goal snatched a point for the Tigers, who were reduced to eight men at the final whistle.
Completing the back four is Home United left back Sirina Camara. Although he was at fault in playing Hougang United onside for their second goal, he had an otherwise dependable outing for the Protectors. He made several crucial interceptions inside his own box and started runs down the left as his team's fruitless chase for three points late in the game.
Despite his side’s fifth consecutive defeat, Harimau Muda B winger Akhir Bahari contributed to the almighty scare they gave to defending champions Tampines Rovers. The young Malaysian was a thorn in the Stags defence and started what looked like an unlikely upset with an early goal in the second half.
His teammate Afiq Fazail was instrumental in the visitors dominating the midfield for much of the tight encounter at Clementi Stadium, but two central midfielders in the other match at Bishan – Home United’s Izzdin Shafiq and Azhar Sairudin of Hougang United – had more sterling contributions in the middle of the park.
Revitalised at Bishan Stadium after a miserable spell with LionsXII, Izzdin was back to his natural creative game in midfield and ensured the 10-man Protectors did not miss Lee Kwan Woo too much after the below-par South Korean was dismissed for two bookable offences early in the second half.
Another standout Protector who ensured the marquee player’s interrupted absence was minimised was attacking midfielder Bruno Castanheira. The Brazilian-Japanese winger displayed a high work rate in midfield and final third, and his good positioning in the box led to the first equaliser of the evening for his side.
While Hougang were pegged back for much of their game, it was the ingenuity and vision of Azhar who set up a defence-splitting long pass from the centre circle that led to a cross down the right for the Cheetahs' second goal of the match.
Atsushi Shimono put in another tireless performance for Woodlands in centre midfield and was a worthy mention for his dynamic work rate between defence and attack, frustrating his former club as the Rams hung on to the lead.
Our two TOTW strikers picked themselves with massive contributions in ensuring their respective teams' victories in this round.
Tanjong Pagar United striker Monsef Zerka finally broke his duck for this season in style, providing a finishing masterclass with a hat-trick in the Jaguars’ 3-2 victory over a winless Courts Young Lions. The former Morocco international displayed an eagle eye to spot the hesitancy in the host's backline as he pounced twice to capitalise on their mistakes, helping Tanjong Pagar finally snap a three-match losing streak.
While Zerka’s contribution was substantial, his was overshadowed by the impact Tampines supersub Noh Alam Shah made in his ten-plus minutes on the pitch, including injury time. Thrown into the fray as the last throw of the dice for coach Salim Moin, the ex-Singapore striker single-handedly dragged his side from the brink of a shock defeat to the most dramatic of his team’s domestic wins so far.
Trailing 0-2 when he came on, the burly forward scored his side’s first goal with five minutes to go before setting up for Miljan Mrdakovic for the equaliser. His dogged determination and fierce fighting spirit galvanised the Stags from their slumber as the leaders scored in injury time to maintain their perfect start to their title defence.
Of the other strikers, Hougang forward Geison Moura continued his prolific form in front of goal against Home as he scored the first goal of the match and put in another tireless shift to hassle the hosts in the final third. Opposition defenders will do well to keep looking out for the Brazilian striker in the weeks to come.