Football: Substitute Yasir Hanapi inspires Tampines to victory over Geylang

Yasir Hanapi scoring the first goal of the SPL match with a volley at the far post. Tampines Rovers beat Geylang International 2-0 at Our Tampines Hub. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Just 10 days ago, Yasir Hanapi was hapless as he watched the Singapore national team succumb to a 2-1 defeat by Kyrgyzstan in their Asian Cup qualifying opener from his hotel room in Bishkek. 

He had tested positive for Covid-19 on the eve of the tie with the hosts and subsequently had to be deregistered from the Lions’ squad for the remaining two matches – a 1-0 loss to Tajikistan and the 6-2 win over Myanmar. 

But on Saturday (June18), the Tampines Rovers captain walked off the Our Tampines Hub pitch with a wide smile after he came off the bench to score the crucial opener – his first this term – in a 2-0 win over rivals Geylang International.

The victory keeps the Stags fourth in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) and the clean sheet, their first after 11 games, delighted Yasir.

He said: “Some things are just not meant to be. I tried to not feel sorry for myself and move on from it (the positive test). It’s unfortunate because I was really looking forward to helping the national team again. To score and help Tampines today is very satisfying.” 

Yasir, 32, had been named in new Lions coach Takayuki Nishigaya’s first national squad and started the friendly against Kuwait, a 2-0 loss, on June 1.

That ended a nine-match absence from the Lions set-up for Yasir, who now has 41 international caps.

He said: “These days, I feel like a young kid again, trying to prove myself. It is a clean slate. As long as I keep my head down and give my best for my club then I will let the rest take care of itself. I am dreaming big, I want this club to end the year with trophies.” 

He started on the bench against Geylang but entered the game in the 18th minute to replace injured midfielder Ong Yu En.

The substitution paid dividends for coach Gavin Lee as Yasir scored with a first-time volley at the far post off a Zehrudin Mehmedovic cross in the 33rd minute.

Late in the second half, SPL top scorer Boris Kopitovic wrapped up the three points with his 13th strike of the term. 

Lee said of his skipper: “His performance speaks for itself. I had rested him and the other national players because they arrived back in Singapore on Thursday...

“But he came on, scored the goal and gave us the control we needed. If there is one player... who can deal with setbacks, it’s Yasir.” 

The Eagles remain second from bottom and will look to end their 10-match winless run when they face Young Lions on Tuesday.

In Saturday’s other match, second-placed Tanjong Pagar United beat last-placed Young Lions 2-0 thanks to goals from Reo Nishiguchi and Faritz Hameed. 

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Aside from the three points, Lee will be pleased to see his defence hold firm and secure a clean sheet, especially given the numerous chances Geylang created.

It suggests improved levels of concentration and bodes well for the Stags as they look to put pressure on the top three.

For the Eagles, they have their own mental block to get over. 

Their only win this year came in their season opener, when they shocked reigning champions Lion City Sailors 1-0 on March 4. The next 10 games have brought seven defeats and three draws. Coach Noor Ali must again find some way to galvanise his players.

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