Match Of The Week

Akbar will not rest Lions players

Tampines Rovers' Hafiz Abu Sujad (centre) training with his team-mates yesterday ahead of their game with Home United. The national midfielder is raring to go against the Protectors after playing for the Lions in Bahrain last week.
Tampines Rovers' Hafiz Abu Sujad (centre) training with his team-mates yesterday ahead of their game with Home United. The national midfielder is raring to go against the Protectors after playing for the Lions in Bahrain last week.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Tampines boss vows to field strongest XI as Stags seek to close the gap on leaders Albirex

S-LEAGUE

Home United v Tampines Rovers

Bishan Stadium, 7.30pm

When Singapore travelled to Manama to take on Bahrain last week, five Tampines Rovers footballers were part of the 24-man squad - the joint-most number of players from one club, along with Geylang International.

The Lions played in the sweltering heat at the Bahrain National Stadium and lost 1-3 in a hard-fought match.

Despite their overseas exertions, Stags coach Akbar Nawas believes fatigue will not affect his national team quintet as he looks to deploy them against Home United tonight at the Bishan Stadium.

Tampines will need all their key players as they are in second place (40 points) in the nine-team S-League, four points behind leaders Albirex Niigata with five matches to go.

The five players in question are goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, left-back Shakir Hamzah and midfielders Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq and Yasir Hanapi.

Three of them started the Bahrain match while Yasir came on as a substitute. Izwan remained on the bench. They arrived in Singapore on Monday and returned to their club on Thursday.

"I expect them to be fresh and ready. There's an eight-day break between the Bahrain and Home match so I'm sure the players would have had enough rest," said Akbar.

"Either way, I'll just have to deal with it. I already am missing players through injury (Fazrul Nawaz, Shahdan Sulaiman) and suspension (Billy Mehmet), so I have a thin squad.

"Resting players is a luxury I can't afford right now. We're still fighting with Albirex (Niigata) for the title and I have no choice but to field my strongest 11 in every match now."

But the 40-year-old is concerned that the players' absence through international duty could affect how the Stags play against the Protectors, saying: "The national players may have been playing regularly but they were away playing for Singapore and not training at the club.

"They will be match-fit but it's not an added advantage for us. The players won't gel well immediately with the rest and that could hurt us against Home.

"It'll be very tough against them. We are aiming for the title but Home are seriously gunning for that third spot. From now until the end of the season, each match is do-or-die for us and we have to bring our 'A' game."

Hafiz, who played about 70 minutes against Bahrain, said: "Fatigue won't be a factor. We should feel fine because we've had enough rest.

"The club gave us a day off to recover and rest because of the jet lag. We were only back for training on Thursday and we're all ready to go against Home United.

"The match is going to be a competitive one. Both sides are chasing for points to finish the season as best as they can and all the players will be fired up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2016, with the headline 'Akbar will not rest Lions players'. Print Edition | Subscribe