Tampines put up five-star display in Singapore Cup final warmup

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Tampines Rovers warmed up for Saturday’s Singapore Cup final against Albirex Niigata (S) in the best possible fashion as they thrashed the same opponents 5-1 on Wednesday night.  

In the season-concluding game at the Jalan Besar Stadium where nothing much was at stake, Tampines put up a scintillating attacking display and showed that they may be able to upset new S.League champions Albirex in the Cup final three days later.

In the process, the Stags became the first side to put five goals past the White Swans since Geylang United (now Geylang International) did so in a 5-1 league victory in May 2008.

Stags trainer Akbar Nawas, however, believes this result has no bearing on the upcoming game.

As a coach, to see this kind of result is great, but it’s not by any means an indication of Saturday’s game. It will be a totally different game.

- Tampines coach Akbar Nawas

“As a coach, to see this kind of result is great, but it’s not by any means an indication of Saturday’s game,” said the 41-year-old. “It will be a totally different game.

“Nonetheless the players played a very professional game tonight despite the off-field conditions and I have to give credit to them for that.

“To win the Cup final will be an icing on the cake for us. We’ve finished second in the league just a point behind Albirex, made the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup and the semi-finals of the League Cup with a weakened team.”

Both sides rested their key players ahead of Saturday’s cup final. Albirex had first-choice goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba and top scorer Atsushi Kawata warming the bench, while Shakir Hamzah and Izzdin Shafiq sat out for Tampines.

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A little too late for the Stags in this game

Former England Under-21 midfielder Jermaine Pennant was left out altogether from the Stags match-day squad, with American teenager Diego Silvas replacing him in the line-up.

Despite the changes, Tampines got off to a flyer and scored on nine minutes with Billy Mehmet heading home Jordan Webb’s right-wing cross for his 12th goal of the season.

The five-time champions continued to create chances and doubled their lead in the 38th minute, with Webb nodding past a rooted Eita Kasagawa in the Albirex goal after connecting with Hafiz Sujad’s cross.

Tampines is the best team is this league, so we have to show our style of football to beat them on Saturday.

- Albirex coach Naruo

It got even better four minutes later, with Silvas striding onto Webb’s through ball before finishing clinically past the onrushing Kasagawa to put the Stags three up on the night.

Albirex then threw on Tanaka for Rui Kumada to change matters in the second half, but Tampines were largely on top and grabbed another goal on 64 minutes.

After Tomoki Menda was adjudged to have handled Hafiz’s goalbound shot and given the marching orders, Shahdan Sulaiman stepped up to send Kasagawa the wrong way from 12 yards out.

Tampines would make it five in the 73rd minute, with Silvas thumping home from close range for his second after Hafiz’s shot was blocked on the line by Kento Fujihara.  

Albirex would grab a late consolation on the stroke of full time, with Daichi Ishiyama exchanging passes before firing a low shot from the edge of the area that evaded Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud.  

Despite the thrashing, the job was already done for Albirex two weeks ago and they lifted the S.League trophy for the first time since their inception in 2004.

The triumph was sweet for the returning White Swans coach Naoki Naruo, after he led the side to a seventh-place finish in his first stint in 2009.

His side have already won the Charity Shield, League Cup and S.League this season and could add the Singapore Cup to their cabinet soon.

“The last time I was here, I came here as a challenge and it wasn’t so much about winning or losing,” he said. “This time I came back here to win the league and we did it.

“As you can see from tonight’s game, it’s very difficult to win this title so I’m really proud of my players. Tampines is the best team in this league, so we have to show our style of football to beat them on Saturday.”

Photos: S.League