Stags' strikers need their scoring boots against Bengaluru

Tampines Rovers players preparing for their AFC Cup tie with Bengaluru FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium, while coach Akbar Nawas talks tactics with captain Fahrudin Mustafic. The Stags are looking to overturn their one-goal deficit from the first leg in
Tampines Rovers players preparing for their AFC Cup tie with Bengaluru FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium, while coach Akbar Nawas talks tactics with captain Fahrudin Mustafic. The Stags are looking to overturn their one-goal deficit from the first leg in Bangalore.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Tampines Rovers can boast arguably the country's most prolific strike force in striker Billy Mehmet, and wingers Jermaine Pennant and Jordan Webb.

The trio may have banged in 34 goals this season, but as they take on India's Bengaluru FC tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup quarter-final second leg, the Stags are surprisingly mired in a goal drought.

Their last two matches saw the five-time S-League champions fire blanks - the first time they have failed to score in successive games this year.

As they are trailing 0-1 from last week's away leg in Bangalore, the goals must flow for Tampines if they harbour any hopes of progressing to the semi-finals.

However, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas is unfazed and instead, is challenging his men to rise to the occasion.

"We've not been scoring in the past few games so I'll like our players to start doing so (tonight)," he said. "I believe that if we do it right and create enough chances, it will go in. If it goes in, it goes in and if it doesn't, that's football.

"We must win, don't we? We must go all out. The result is not in our hands... but what we can do is to influence the outcome and play as best as we can."

While Tampines have never lost on home soil in the AFC Cup this season, Akbar will not count on that to spur his charges where nothing less than victory will suffice.

Last week's tie at the 24,000-seater Sree Kanteerava Stadium was played behind closed doors due to unrest in the Indian city.

Speaking at a press conference at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel yesterday, he said: "I don't think we have an advantage (playing at home).

"We have to step up and not take Bengaluru lightly. If they score one goal, it'll be an uphill task for us to score three goals but we must be composed and play to our strengths.

"They have some tenacity in their play and they do have some surprises in their set plays, we have to be wary of all these."

Formed just three years ago, Bengaluru won the I-League - India's top-tier football league - in their debut season and were crowned champions again in April this year.

The Indian outfit have already improved on their best-ever AFC Cup performance last year when they reached the last 16 and will look to make more progress by securing a semi-final spot.

Coach and former Barcelona assistant Albert Roca, who took charge of the club in July, said: " It's not going to be easy for sure. We've only scored one goal, which gives us a certain advantage.

"But here, Tampines will try to overturn the bad situation and make things difficult for us. It's going to be tough."

TAMPINES ROVERS V BENGALURU FC
Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 7.20pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Stags' strikers need their scoring boots against Bengaluru'. Print Edition | Subscribe