Match Of The Week

Football: Fresher Stags ready to canter

Tampines Rovers' tireless captain Fahrudin Mustafic in training, with Fazrul Nawaz (No. 10) and Safirul Sulaiman behind him. The team played three games in seven days but are now rested after a week's break.
Tampines Rovers' tireless captain Fahrudin Mustafic in training, with Fazrul Nawaz (No. 10) and Safirul Sulaiman behind him. The team played three games in seven days but are now rested after a week's break.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

After a tiring late April, Tampines look to get going in the SPL to chase down early leaders

SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Tampines Rovers v Balestier Khalsa, Our Tampines Hub, 7.45pm

Fahrudin Mustafic is no quitter. The Tampines Rovers stalwart has made a career on the back of hard tackling and dogged determination, but on April 24, the defender asked to be taken off the field of play in the 64th minute.

The Stags endured a packed schedule in the last week of April, with fatigue clearly setting in. It culminated in the 4-2 defeat by Indonesian side Persija Jakarta in their final AFC Cup Group H game, which left Tampines bottom with a single point in the Asian second-tier competition.

Now after a week's break, they face high-flying Balestier Khalsa in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) tonight, refreshed and focused on climbing back up the standings.

"Personally, fatigue has definitely been a problem," said the 37-year-old Mustafic. "That was a tough week for us, we played three games in seven days, and I really felt it - that's why I asked to be substituted."

Tampines beat Hougang United 4-0 (April 18), then drew 0-0 with Warriors FC (April 21) in the league before facing Persija.

"But from this Balestier game (onwards), it will be better. We've had a week without a game, and some days off. Our coach is very particular about our recovery programme, and we are totally fresh now," added Mustafic.

Stags' coach Jurgen Raab bemoaned the congested fixture list.

QUIETLY CONFIDENT

I know we will control the game, and Balestier will play on the counter-attack with long balls to their tall forwards. But if we can find balance and play our style, we will dominate the game and win.

JURGEN RAAB, Tampines coach, on what to expect from Balestier, who are flying high in second place in the league.

"It's not a question of fitness, but a problem of fixtures, the succession of games that we've had to play," said the German.

"How can you have good preparation like that? No team in the league has such a big choice of quality players to be able to rotate their squad. But we are now fresher, yes."

Neither Raab nor Mustafic are taking Balestier lightly.

The Tigers are second in the nine-team SPL standings on 10 points from six games, with Tampines three points behind but having played two fewer matches.

Two-time defending champions Albirex Niigata sit atop the table with 15 points from five games after a perfect start.

"Marko Kraljevic (the Balestier coach) works very hard with his players, and his teams are always well organised. Their position in the league shows how much work they are doing, and they are a quality team," said Mustafic.

But Raab has a plan in mind. He said: "I know we will control the game, and Balestier will play on the counter-attack with long balls to their tall forwards. But if we can find balance and play our style, we will dominate the game and win.

"I have no fear of their style, we just have to be careful of second balls and set pieces."

  • OTHER FIXTURES

  • TODAY 
    Hougang v Home Hougang, 7.45pm

    Warriors v DPMM Choa Chu Kang, 7.45pm 

    SATURDAY 

    Home United v Warriors FC Bishan, 5.30pm 

    SUNDAY 

    Albirex Niigata v Hougang United Jurong East, 5.30pm 

    WEDNESDAY 

    Geylang International v Young Lions Bedok, 7.45pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline 'Fresher stags ready to canter'. Print Edition | Subscribe