|FROM JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Teng Kiat
For 78 minutes of the Singapore Cup final, Tampines Rovers looked they were well on their way to securing the first trophy of a possible domestic double.
An own goal from SAFFC goalkeeper Shahril Jantan had given them the lead, but there was to be a late twist to the tale.
Erwan Gunawan fired home an injury-time winner after Shimpei Sakurada had equalized with 15 minutes left to cap a superb fightback and seal victory for the Warriors, and dash the Stags’ double hopes.
It was SAFFC who had the first sight of goal, as Japanese midfielder Shimpei Sakurada dragged a low effort from outside the box wide of the target on six minutes.
They went even closer four minutes later, as a slick move resulted in winger Tatsuro Inui pulling the ball back from the left for Mislav Karoglan to bundle just past the near post.
Inui nearly turned scorer in the 17th minute as he bent a 20-yard freekick over the wall and past a rooted Sasa Dreven in the Tampines goal, only to see his effort crash back off the crossbar.
The Stags were struggling to get going, with only a failed overhead-kick attempt by Jamil Ali to show for their attempts to get the ball into the box.
But their next move would result in them taking the lead, much against the run of play.
Warriors custodian Shahril Jantan suffered the ignominy of scoring an own goal, as he inadvertently tipped a left-wing cross from Ismadi Mukhtar into his own net to give Tampines the lead in the 25th minute.
That seemed to spark the Stags into life for a brief moment, as Jamil Ali charged down the right and fired a low drive straight into Shahril’s grateful arms.
Inui’s set-pieces were proving to be a threat, with Shukor Zailan flicking a 36th minute freekick straight at Dreven, who did well to parry the header away to ensure his side went into half-time in the lead.
Another freekick from the Japanese winger was well held by Dreven early in the second half, though the game petered out after that as both sides failed to create much in the way of goalscoring opportunities.
It took until the 68th minute for a goalkeeper to be called into action again, with Dreven comfortably gathering Karoglan’s shot after the striker had cut in from the right flank.
A minute later, Sead Hadzibulic blazed his volley well over after brilliantly chesting down a superb long ball from Benoit Croissant in the box.
Shimpei Sakurada reacted instinctively to stab at a loose ball at a corner but poked his effort over the bar with 15 minutes left on the clock, in a warning sign that went unheeded by Tampines.
Just three minutes later, the Warriors found the breakthrough when the same man reacted quickest to turn in a flick-on from Daniel Bennett from a corner and level the tie and signal the start of a dramatic comeback.
The turnaround was completed in the second minute of added time, as substitute Erwan Gunawan pounced on a loose ball after Zulfadli Zainal’s cross was half-cleared and blasted it into the back of the net for a late, late winner