<Photo Credits: Teo Sheng Wei>
TAMPINES ROVERS 1
(Hafiz Sujad 69)
CERES LA SALLE 1
(Adrian Gallardo 88)
On paper, this looked like an AFC Cup match between an S.League club against a team from the Philippines. But it might as well have been a Singaporean side taking on an European outfit. Whereas Tampines Rovers featured eight Singaporeans and three imports in their starting XI, Ceres La Salle deployed eight outfield players born in Europe, two from South Korea, with goalkeeper Louie Casas the only one born and bred in the Philippines.
And the six Fil-foreign players who started do come with some pedigree. Centre back Juan Guirado was nurtured by Malaga, left back Jeffrey Christiaens grew up with Club Brugge, winger Manuel Ott was in the second team of Ingolstadt 04, attacking midfielder Paul Mulders spent almost a decade at the famed Ajax academy, midfielder Martin Steuble played for Grasshopper Zurich while winger Patrick Reichelt featured for Energie Cottbus' second team.
And they came to Jalan Besar clearly believing they could win, knocking the ball about with confidence and swagger, and easily outmuscled Tampines' all-Singapore central midfield.
But ever the wily fox, Stags coach V Sundramoorthy clearly had a game plan against superior opponents - forget about style, rely on the counter attack and set-pieces. Basically, try to win ugly.
Some may say to each his own, but it is clear that Sundram's philosophy can at times contradict the patient build-up, short-passing and possession-based football national football coach Bernd Stange has been preaching. One can also argue that the demands of club and international football are different and that Sundramoorthy is doing what he thinks is best for his team as they bid to advance from Group E.
With many of the national team players in Tampines, this makes one wonder if Singapore can ever achieve the tiki-taka of Thailand, much less Barcelona or Bayern Munich? Or if future national coaches should just be pragmatic with tactics and be less ambitious about moulding a beautiful style of play? These points are open to debate but to a certain extent, Sundram's tactics in front of 2,241 fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium as they scraped a 1-1 draw that left them top of the group with seven points, two more than Ceres.
They took the improbable lead in the 69th minute when Hafiz Sujad prodded home Jordan Webb's pass, but could not withstand Ceres' relentless attacks, allowing Adrian Gallardo to equalise two minutes from time.
Sundram, who clearly values a good defensive showing, was frustrated at letting two points slip as he said: "We played the same way against Selangor and it worked.
"Tonight, it wasn't an easy game. We created chances, they had their moments, and I believe at 1-0, we should have defended better and taken maximum points.
"It is disappointing to lose points at home. We were 1-0 up with minutes to go, and we were in an ideal position to wrap things up but for our lack of concentration.
"The good news is, we are still top of the group. We have to move on but we cannot take things for granted because we have two away games."
TAMPINES ROVERS: Izwan Mahbud, Ismadi Mukhtar, Noh Rahman, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Yasir Hanapi (Izzdin Shafiq 79), Hafiz Sujad, Shahdan Sulaiman, Jermaine Pennant (Kwon Jun 89), Jordan Webb, Billy Mehmet
CERES LA SALLE: Louie Casas, Son Yong Chan, Kim Sang Min, Juan Guirado, Jeffrey Christiaens (Stephan Schrock, 83), Manuel Ott, Paul Mulders (Marwin Angeles 66), Martin Steuble, Bienvenido Maranon, Patrick Reichelt, Adrian Gallardo