Match Of The Week

Football: Tampines-Albirex game like a final, says Mustafic

Fahrudin Mustafic heading the ball in training yesterday. The Tampines midfielder and assistant coach is determined not to let a foreign club win the S-League title for a second successive season.
Fahrudin Mustafic heading the ball in training yesterday. The Tampines midfielder and assistant coach is determined not to let a foreign club win the S-League title for a second successive season.PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Albirex Niigata’s midfield talisman Tatsuro Inui has played an important role in his club’s title charge, contributing nine league goals.
Albirex Niigata’s midfield talisman Tatsuro Inui has played an important role in his club’s title charge, contributing nine league goals. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

S-LEAGUE

Tampines Rovers v Albirex Niigata

Jurong West, 8pm

Besides three vital points, national pride will also be at stake for second-placed Tampines Rovers when they host Japanese table-toppers Albirex Niigata tonight at Jurong West Stadium in a pivotal match.

If the Stags lose, Albirex will go 10 points clear at the S-League summit and the title could be in danger of falling into the hands of a foreign club for a second successive year after Brunei DPMM marched away with the championship last season.

 

However, midfield general and assistant coach Fahrudin Mustafic, is determined to not let that happen.

He said: "For us, it's really important for a local team to win the title.

"If a foreign team wins again this year, it gives a bad impression of Singapore football. That's why we need to beat Albirex in order to stay in the race for the title because in this situation, we're the only representative of Singapore football.

"It'll be our biggest match and it'll be like a final. Everyone is aware of that so I really hope we all do well for the club and Singapore also."

Realistically, Tampines are the only local side with a realistic chance of bagging the title. Trailing Albirex by seven points, victory tonight would see the Stags cut the deficit to just four points with eight matches remaining.

Third-placed Home United are virtually out of the championship fight, as they trail the White Swans by 16 points.

Stags coach Akbar Nawas said: "Everybody will be playing for local pride. That's one motivating factor.

"Against a foreign club, we must step up and pose a challenge - that is well understood.

"It's already an innate mindset and without saying, the players will feel it - even for myself as a coach.

"Be it a foreign or local team, you must give credit to whoever wins the league because they played well throughout the season to win the championship but obviously we want to be in that position."

Tampines will have their work cut out for them, as they will face a club who have won their last 10 matches.

Akbar is aware of how potent their Japanese opponents are and said: "We're mindful of their confidence and their morale, with their 10-match winning streak.

"Any team that's on such a good run should be given due respect. But we also know their strengths and weaknesses. The last time we played Albirex, we played a very good game despite the loss.

"We hope to replicate that same form and do a little bit more to seal the victory. We'll try to keep possession, attack when we can but also be wary of our defence."

In yesterday's fixtures, Home fell 1-2 to Geylang International while Warriors beat Hougang United 3-1.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Tampines-Albirex game like a final: Mustafic'. Print Edition | Subscribe