Stags aim for S'pore Cup glory in team's final hurrah

From left: Jermaine Pennant will be aiming for a Singapore Cup winners' medal to remember his time with Tampines by, having confirmed he will be leaving the Stags after one season. Albirex Niigata's top scorer Atsushi Kawata will lead the Japanese si
From left: Jermaine Pennant will be aiming for a Singapore Cup winners' medal to remember his time with Tampines by, having confirmed he will be leaving the Stags after one season. Albirex Niigata's top scorer Atsushi Kawata will lead the Japanese side's hunt for a clean sweep of all four domestic titles this season.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

There is more than just local pride at stake tonight when Tampines Rovers take on newly-crowned S-League champions Albirex Niigata in the RHB Singapore Cup final.

For the Stags, it could be an emotional night at the Jalan Besar Stadium as this might be the last time the star-studded team play together.

It will be former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant's final match in Singapore after announcing he will leave the club at the end of the season.

And the Englishman will likely lead an exodus of other players, including a host of Singapore internationals after Stags players and staff were told they would have to take big pay cuts if they wish to stay.

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas said: "For us, it's probably the last time all of us would play together. That's more of the motivating factor for us to win.

"I'm more concerned that they put in a good performance. We're pumped up because we want to create good memories on that day.

 Jermaine Pennant will be aiming for a Singapore Cup winners' medal to remember his time with Tampines by, having confirmed he will be leaving the Stags after one season. Albirex Niigata's top scorer Atsushi Kawata will lead the Japanese si
Albirex Niigata’s top scorer Atsushi Kawata will lead the Japanese side’s hunt for a clean sweep of all four domestic titles this season. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

"I think it's important for the team to give a good account of themselves despite whatever they have faced and the uncertainty of the situation they are in right now."

Albirex, the Japanese developmental side who have been with the league since 2004, are the defending Singapore Cup champions.

The White Swans also won the Community Shield curtain-raiser in February, the League Cup in July and sealed their first S-League title last week. Should they retain their Cup title, they would become the first S-League - local or foreign - side to win all four domestic trophies in a season.

Tampines stand in the way, but the Stags are not thinking about doing local teams proud as much as trying to win silverware to boost their respective career prospects.

Said midfielder Yasir Hanapi, 27: "For sure, there's local pride on the line, but that's a secondary thing for us. The match is an important game for us because there are some players who are fighting for their contracts, some who are aiming for (a national team place for the Asean Football Federation) Suzuki Cup.

"For me, I just want to win something this year."

National goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, 26, added that their desire to win is not fuelled by national pride. He said: "Albirex have given us locals an example of what professional football is and we've learnt a lot from them throughout the seasons they have played in the S-League. They're also like a local side to us."

For their Japanese opponents, the biggest challenge for them is to not switch off even after enjoying their best season since joining the league 12 years ago.

Since sealing their first S-League crown on Oct 14, they lost their final two matches, suffering heavy defeats by Home United (3-1) last Thursday and Tampines (5-1) on Wednesday.

Coach Naoki Naruo said: "The most difficult part was to maintain the level of motivation of the players, that's the challenge we are facing now as a team."

Striker Atsushi Kawata, top scorer for Albirex this season with 13 league goals, added: "Our boss, club chairman Daisuke Korenaga, told us not to think we have achieved a lot - we have not achieved anything yet. So the final is important for our football career."

ALBIREX V TAMPINES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Stags aim for S'pore Cup glory in team's final hurrah'. Print Edition | Subscribe