Winners & Losers: S.League Round 1
- Rafael Ramazotti - FourFourTwo's Player of the Round
Former Hull City forward Craig Fagan and Rangers youth product Brian McLean might have been the star names when DPMM's newest foreign signings were announced in the offseason, but it was much travelled Rafael Ramazotti who stole all the headlines after the 3-1 win over Harimau Muda. The Malaysian youngsters had no answer to the rampaging Brazilian striker, as he registered a hattrick on debut to send DPMM to the top of the table.
The lanky forward was a handful in the air, winning an astonishing 11 out of 15 aerial duels during the game. Ramazotti's air superiority soon told, as he nodded home a 24th minute opener, before adding a sweet volley and timely close-range finish to seal the result.
- Fabian Kwok
New Tampines Rovers signing Fabian Kwok started the season with a bang with a star turn in central midfield. Known for his audacious halfway-line goal against Albirex Niigata last season, Kwok wasted no time in his first match for the Stags, turning in a Man-of-the-Match performance against the very same opposition.
It's a timely reminder to many football fans in the S.League that local doesn't necessarily mean inferior, and a warning to an incoming Roberto Alviz that he has a fight on his hands for the central midfield slot alongside captain Fahrudin Mustafic.
- Alex Weaver
It's been a stressful week for Warriors FC head coach Alex Weaver, but one that turned out pretty well in the end. The season opener against Balestier Khalsa went as well as you could expect, with reigning S.League Young Player of the Year Nicolas Velez scoring the only goal of the game minutes after a tactical formation switch from Weaver.
If that Charity Shield win for their first silverware of the season wasn't enough, the Englishman was then cleared of three charges of tapping up goalkeeper Fadhil Salim during Tuesday's disciplinary hearing. The only charge that stuck was for mentioning interest in the player through the media, with Weaver handed a suspended three-month ban.
- Courts Young Lions
It took eight games for the Young Lions to notch their first point of the season last year, as they looked hopelessly outmatched in the early games. Aide Iskandar's boys made sure there would be no repeat on Monday, holding Hougang to a draw away from home.
Granted the Cheetahs had lost their previous four games to the Young Lions, but the first game of the new season is never an easy one, and Iqbal Hussain's early goal helped calmed nerves. It was a match that could have gone either way, with Chupe equalising for Hougang before Iqbal saw his first-half penalty kick pushed away by goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin.
Can the Courts Young Lions improve on last season's score tally, with one eye firmly on June's SEA Games campaign? It's still too early to tell, but it's a decent start.
- Albirex Niigata's defence
The White Swans were feted as potential title challengers in the offseason, but the first game of the season shows that there's still some kinks to work out before they get going again. For an hour, the Albirex defence held firm, marshalled by former J. League goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa. It took but a single defensive howler to spoil all the effort up to that point.
A gently rolling cutback into the box looked harmless at first, but both Nozawa and defender Itsuki Yamada somehow made a meal of the routine clearance, approaching the ball but leaving it to each other. With Fabrice Noel lurking, first Nozawa and then Yamada proceeded to trip over the ball, leaving the gleeful Tampines striker to fire into the net for the winner. We'd be laughing, if we didn't feel so sorry for the Albirex pair.
- Harimau Muda
Recently crowned Bangabandhu Gold Cup champions Harimau Muda are expected to be a more competitive team than last year's wooden spooners, with the addition of several older players this season. Besides impressing in Bangladesh during preseason, the team features several familiar faces who were part of an impressive Harimau Muda side that finished fourth in their debut S.League season in 2012.
Alas, their first game of the season had to come against Bruneian outfit DPMM FC, who came out of the blocks firing. Despite registering the best passing accuracy among all teams in Round 1 with a 78% success rate, the Young Tigers had no answer to Ramazotti's deadly finishing. They will have to do much, much better when they host S.League champions Warriors FC in the very next round.