Football: Tampines hammer Balestier 8-1 in S’pore Cup semi-final first leg

Boris Kopitovic celebrating with Tampines Rovers fans after scoring a hat-trick in their 8-1 win over Balestier Khalsa in the Singapore Cup semi-final first leg on Friday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE – On Tuesday, Tampines Rovers forward Boris Kopitovic lost out on the 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) Player of The Year award to Albirex Niigata forward Kodai Tanaka. His response then at the Football Association of Singapore’s Awards Night was a shrug of the shoulders.

On Friday, in the first leg of the Singapore Cup semi-final against Balestier Khalsa, Kopitovic let his feet do the talking. His hat-trick was the highlight of a thumping 8-1 win that all but guaranteed the Stags a place in the final.

Kopitovic, who did feature in the SPL Team of the Year, had scored 35 league goals – two more than Tanaka’s tally – in 2022 to claim the golden boot award. His latest treble took him to 41 goals in 34 matches across all competitions.

The Montenegrin forward, 27, told The Straits Times after the win: “The target at the start of the season was to win the golden boot. But of course, I did feel that I had done enough to win the Player of the Year.”

“But I want to congratulate Tanaka. He had a fantastic season and he maybe he won the award because he won the league. But last year, the golden boot winner (Tomoyuki Doi) won the Player of the Year and his club (Hougang) finished third in the league so I must be honest and say I did have expectations that I would get the trophy.”

His focus is still on silverware, namely the Singapore Cup, even as he has attracted offers from clubs in South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

He will decide on his future after the Cup, he said, before adding: “I owe my form this year to coach Gavin (Lee) because he spent a lot of time working individually with me. I never expected to get as many goals this year. I want to score a few more and help us to win the Cup. That is my main goal.”

The past two Singapore Cups were cancelled due to the pandemic. Tampines were the last winners in 2019.

On Friday at Our Tampines Hub, they showed a desire to retain the trophy. Three goals inside five first-half minutes put the match, if not the tie, beyond doubt.

The first arrived in the 26th minute through Taufik Suparno before Yasir Hanapi added a second a minute later. Soon after, Kopitovic opened his account when he took down the cross from Taufik and fired in with his weaker left foot.

His second came in the 72nd minute when he tapped in from close range after a swift counterattack, before completing his hat-trick with a shot from just outside the box.

Joel Chew and Zehrudin Mehmedovic’s brace added gloss to the scoreline for Tampines, while Daniel Goh got a consolation goal for the Tigers in the 81st minute.

Tigers head coach Peter de Roo, 52, vowed the second leg will not be a mere procession. The Dutchman, who took over after his predecessor Akbar Nawas resigned to join Thai second-tier side Udon Thani in August, said: “We let ourselves down today. To come back from this is impossible but I expect the boys to put everything they have into the next game.”

While one finalist seems a foregone conclusion, the other tie between Albirex and Hougang United remains finely balanced. At the Jurong East Stadium, Albirex led 3-1 but Hougang fought back to claim a 3-3 draw.

The second leg of both semi-finals will be played next Tuesday.

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