Drama-filled opening night for S-League as Albirex beat Tampines 2-1 at National Stadium

Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud watching in vain as this attempt by substitute Shoichiro Sakamoto, who had equalised at 1-1, beats him and rolls into the net for what turned out to be the winning goal for Albirex, who retained the Community Shield.
Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud watching in vain as this attempt by substitute Shoichiro Sakamoto, who had equalised at 1-1, beats him and rolls into the net for what turned out to be the winning goal for Albirex, who retained the Community Shield.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Above: Great Eastern managing director, life and regional bancassurance, Khoo Kah Siang presenting a cheque to Tan Bee Heong, general manager of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, after the Community Shield match. Great Eastern, the S-League
Great Eastern managing director, life and regional bancassurance, Khoo Kah Siang presenting a cheque to Tan Bee Heong, general manager of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund, after the Community Shield match. Great Eastern, the S-League's co-title sponsor with Hyundai, raised $64,500 for the Fund.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud watching in vain as this attempt by substitute Shoichiro Sakamoto, who had equalised at 1-1, beats him and rolls into the net for what turned out to be the winning goal for Albirex, who retained the Community Shield.
Albirex players celebrating after winning another domestic trophy, this time the season-opening Community Shield.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

Stags lead but collapse after missed spot kick, with 3 sent off as Albirex recover for 2-1 win

Three goals, an equal number of red cards along with a penalty controversy plus a lively atmosphere inside the National Stadium ensured that the 22nd season of the S-League kicked off yesterday with a bang.

When the dust settled on an entertaining game of football for the 15,480-strong crowd, it was reigning champions Albirex Niigata who had plenty to celebrate.

The Japanese outfit, who swept all four domestic trophies last season, added another to their cabinet thanks to a come-from-behind 2-1 win against Tampines Rovers in the Community Shield.

Albirex's coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga admitted that the outcome could have been different if Tampines - who opened the scoring through midfielder Ryutaro Megumi in the 36th min - had converted a 58th- minute penalty to double their lead.

Instead, Croatian striker Ivan Dzoni's successful effort was overturned by referee Sukhbir Singh and his second try struck the bar.

Yoshinaga said: "The penalty was an important juncture during the game. If it had gone in, I'd have (to come up with) another plan to try to win the game."

From there, the Stags went into self-destruct mode and had three men sent off, starting with midfielder Yasir Hanapi for a second yellow card in the 64th minute. Skipper Madhu Mohana (88th) and defender Ismadi Mukhtar (90th) were also given their marching orders.

During that period, the White Swans engineered their comeback through substitute striker Shoichiro Sakamoto's brace in the 74th and 82nd minutes.

Tampines coach Jurgen Raab was furious at the referee's decision to order the spot kick to be retaken.

The 58-year-old German, who was appointed Stags coach on Feb 1, said: "I'm frustrated and disappointed. I am not sure if he (the referee) was right. I don't understand why he should repeat (the penalty). I don't think it or the other red cards were necessary.

"But I will have a look at the replays before coming to any conclusion about this."

Despite the loss of silverware and three league points, Raab remained optimistic about the new season. He said: "We're not quite physically as strong at this stage of the season yet. But I am proud that we demonstrated good football today. And that should be the way forward."

Last night's turnout - it was the first time an S-League game was held at the new National Stadium and the largest for a domestic match since 17,000 fans turned up for the 2004 Singapore Cup final between Tampines and Home United - was also a positive for local football, which has struggled to capture the interest of fans.

Said banker Edwin Chetty, 46: "Today's atmosphere was like going back to the Malaysia Cup days. I came to watch the match because I like this 'stadium feel'."

Veteran Stags player Fahrudin Mustafic, 35, said: "When you have a good pitch and playing inside the National Stadium, the players feel more motivated to deliver even more out there and prove themselves to the maximum.

"It will be really nice for the S-League to be able to host more matches there. I don't know how realistic it could be. But the players love it and the crowd love it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Drama aplenty in opener'. Print Edition | Subscribe