Tampines out after stalemate

Tampines Rovers midfielder Hafiz Sujad shooting past Bengaluru FC's Juan Antonio during their AFC Cup stalemate. The Stags were knocked out after failing to score over two legs.
Tampines Rovers midfielder Hafiz Sujad shooting past Bengaluru FC's Juan Antonio during their AFC Cup stalemate. The Stags were knocked out after failing to score over two legs.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Stags' failure to put host of chances away costs them a place in AFC Cup semi-finals

On a night when Tampines Rovers were hoping for goals to rain down, the usually free-scoring Stags fired blanks for the third successive match as they failed to progress to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup semi-final.

A goal-less stalemate against Bengaluru FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium meant Tampines lost the quarter-final 0-1 on aggregate. The Indian I-League champions had beaten the five-time S-League winners in the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in last week's first leg.

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas lamented: "We tried our best. The players did play their hearts out and I'm actually pleased with how they went all the way to try to get a goal. If you create that many chances but you're not clinical enough in the box, what can you do?

  • AFC CUP 

  • Tampines Rovers 0
    Bengaluru FC 0
    (Bengaluru win 1-0 on aggregate)

"Most of them had very good chances inside the box. The players can give themselves a pat on the back because they tried but the ball just didn't go in."

Playing in front of 1,985 raucous fans, a stark contrast to the away tie played behind closed doors due to unrest in Bangalore, Tampines started strongly as they sought to overturn the one-goal deficit.

With home advantage on their side, the Stags showed urgency in attack and pace on the counter. Wide men Jordan Webb and Jermaine Pennant were a constant menace down the flanks, doing well to carve out chances for the team.

They fed midfielders Hafiz Abu Sujad and Yasir Hanapi, who both forced goalkeeper Amrinder into making saves at full stretch. Tampines operated well as a unit, keeping their shape to bomb forward.

However, Bengaluru's plan to sit back and protect their lead frustrated the hosts.

Central defensive towers Juan Antonio and John Johnson made good use of their imposing presence to shore up the Bengaluru backline, denying Tampines with their crunching tackles and timely blocks.

Akbar was unimpressed, saying: "I don't think Bengaluru played a good game. They played the same way as they did in the first leg. They tried to harass the midfield but couldn't succeed.

"It's just that they did well in terms of closing down the space that we had. I saw no tactical brilliance whatsoever."

His opposite number Albert Roca begged to differ, saying: "It was difficult against them (Tampines) but we were in control of the game for the most part. We deserved to get through to the next round.

Desperate to break the deadlock, the Stags kept pressing forward. Yasir had a handful of chances but failed to make them count.

Deep into injury time, Hafiz was presented with a chance but his tame close-range shot was not enough to beat Amrinder and force the match into extra-time.

The result means Tampines still have not gone further than the quarter-finals in the AFC Cup. The last time a local side made it to the continental competition's semi-final stage was back in 2004 when Home United and Geylang International flew the nation's flag.

Bengaluru will now play reigning AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Takzim in the semi-final first leg in Malaysia's Larkin Stadium next Wednesday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Tampines out after stalemate'. Print Edition | Subscribe