JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Khalis Rifhan
Tampines Rovers are through to the Singapore Cup final, after surviving early scares from Loyola Meralco Sparks in the second leg of their semi-final at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Two goals from evergreen striker Aleksandar Duric and an injury-time goal from Imran Sahib in the last quarter of the match finally broke the resistance of the energetic Philippines outfit, who gave their all despite already being 2-0 down from the first-leg.
Tampines Rovers started in a 4-3-3 attacking formation, while the Sparks went with a more conventional 4-4-2. But despite adopting a more offensive approach, the Stags were left sitting deep in their own half as the foreign side dominated the game early on.
Alexandro Elnar and Korean Jang Jowon were making full use of the space available to them down the flanks, as they constantly supplied ammunition to the Younghusband brothers.
Tampines full-backs Anaz Hadee and Ismadi Mukhtar were unable to keep pace with the speedy duo on numerous occasions, which put their team in dangerous situations.
Jang did well to leave his markers behind before advancing into the box, but his driven shot was well gathered by Stags custodian Sasa Dreven.
Moments later, Tampines poured forward on a break down the right as Gligor Glogorov cut the ball back into the box for Noh Alam Shah, who somehow failed to hit the target from eight yards out.
James Younghusband wasted two glorious opportunities to put his side in front, with his first shot going well wide before seeing another attempt resulting in a stupendous save from Dreven in the 28th minute.
Ten minutes later, it was Sparks goalkeeper Ref Cuaresma’s turn to show his abilities, as he palmed away Noh Alam Shah’s effort from point-blank range.
With both teams eager to break the deadlock, things flared up midway through the second half as players from both sides had a heated exchange of words.
As a result of that incident, Chad Gould of Sparks and Tampines' Mustafic Fahrudin and Anaz Hadee were all booked by referee Yazmeen Buhari.
Things got better for Tampines after coach Tay Peng Kee decided to take off former national player Alam Shah for Jamil Ali in the 76th minute.
Jamil’s introduction proved to be the turning point in the game, as he assisted Duric for the first goal of the game just two minutes later.
Six minutes later, the substitute blitzed past the Sparks defence before cutting the ball back for Duric to tap home a simple finish for his second goal of the night.
The Sparks defence was all over the place by now, and the Stags grabbed a third goal courtesy of Imran Sahib in injury time to seal their place in the final.
Tampines thus advance to the final with an aggregate score of 5-0, and they will meet SAFFC on October 28 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.