Mohun Bagan 3-1 Tampines Rovers: Pennant-less Stags' Champions League dreams go up in smoke

Despite strengthening massively in the off-season, Tampines Rovers failed to shine in their first competitive match of 2016 as they went down to India’s Mohun Bagan in their AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifying playoff.

Goals from Jeje Lalpekhlua, Cornell Glen and Katsumi Yusa helped the I-League champions win the clash, rendering Yasir Hanapi’s solitary goal for Tampines a mere consolation.

As if playing without key man Jermaine Pennant and in chilly conditions had not already been tough enough for the Stags, they then went a goal down after just five minutes of play.

Mohun's left-back Dhanachandra Singh received the ball from Haiti international winger Sony Norde before whipping in a superb cross for Lalpekhlua to fire past a helpless Izwan Mahbud in the Tampines goal.

Buoyed by the early goal, the Mariners dominated most of the first half and could even afford to miss a penalty, with Glen firing straight at Izwan from 12 yards out after being brought down by Tampines centre-back Kwon Jun.

Glen, who featured at the 2006 World Cup with Trinidad and Tobago, did redeem himself right before half time by bundling in an untidy finish after Norde had evaded the attention of several markers to tee his partner up.

The 2-0 lead would only last for all of two minutes, however, as Tampines rallied to pull one back against the run of play just before half time.

Hafiz Sujad played in the perfect free-kick from the edge of the box for Yasir to direct his header beyond Mohun goalkeeper Debjit Majumder, halving the deficit.

Things could have looked even better for the Singaporeans thought they pulled level three minutes after the restart when captain of the night Fazrul Nawaz turned home Christopher van Huizen’s free-kick, but his celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s offside flag.

Both sides traded blows in a far more open second half and it appeared as if the pendulum was gradually swinging the Stags’ way in the final 20 minutes.

V. Sundramoorthy’s men piled bodies forward and perhaps should have levelled matters in the 80th minute when Yasir was sent clean through on goal, but the 26-year-old was unable to repeat his earlier heroics and somehow contrived to fire it over the bar.

They were made to pay for that dreadful miss seven minutes from time as Mohun captain Katsumi applied the finishing touches on a dominant display, turning in Prabir Das' superb flick-on from Norde’s corner.

That ensured the Indian champions ran out 3-1 winners on the night and subsequently progressed into the second round of the ACL playoff qualifying round, where they will face China’s Shandong Luneng Taishan.

Tampines' dreams of continental glory are not over, however,  as they now have the opportunity to play in the second-tier AFC Cup.

The S.League title favourites have been drawn in Group E alongside Malaysia Cup winners Selangor FA, Filipino champions Ceres and Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi. 

Photo: S.League