Match Of The Week

Mustafic eyes victory, national recall

Tampines Rovers captain Fahrudin Mustafic (right) and Sufian Anuar at a training session at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. Mustafic, banished by Bernd Stange, is hoping to earn a national recall.
Tampines Rovers captain Fahrudin Mustafic (right) and Sufian Anuar at a training session at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday. Mustafic, banished by Bernd Stange, is hoping to earn a national recall.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

When Albirex Niigata take on Tampines Rovers tonight at the Jurong East Stadium in the race for the S-League title, there will be more than just three points at stake for Fahrudin Mustafic.

The defensive midfielder, who turns 35 tomorrow, is hoping that it will be the start of a comeback to the national team after former Singapore coach Bernd Stange, who left the Republic last night, banished him to the international wilderness for the past three years.

Known for his tough tackling, tactical discipline and crisp passing, the Tampines captain wants to put in a commanding display against Albirex to show that he deserves to add to his 79 international caps.

Speaking to The Straits Times, the enforcer said: "To be honest, (Stange's) lucky to have been here for three years. After his first (Asean Football Federation) Suzuki Cup failure in 2014, Stange should have resigned.

"He promised to play tiki-taka, none of that happened in the end. Honestly, it's good for Singapore football that he's gone because there's been no improvement.

"Right after Stange took over the national team in 2013, the team then was in better shape than now. Back then, we commanded respect in the region but now, we struggle to beat teams like Cambodia, Macau, Myanmar - sides we easily beat before."

With fans pining for ex-national captain Fandi Ahmad or Tampines coach V. Sundramoorthy to succeed the German, Mustafic gave his vote for a local to be the new Lion tamer.

"A local coach would be familiar with the players. Either Fandi or Sundram - they've worked with the LionsXII. Any one of them would do a better job than any foreign coach who comes," the midfielder said.

Mustafic added: "When Stange was there, it was clear the door was closed but now, it's open. I really hope to be called up but I understand it's diffcult also because of my age, and me not playing (for Singapore) for three years."

But time is not on Mustafic's side. He started just five out of Tampines' 10 league and cup matches this season.

Although Sundram said it is difficult for him to comment on the midfielder's hopes of a recall as he coaches both Tampines and the Lions, he stressed that "age is just a number".

"(Selection) is based on merit - not just for Farra but all the players out there. It's all down to how a player performs in the season. Of course, it depends on how the next coach sees it," Sundram said.

With the Stags currently third in the S-League on 14 points, they could leapfrog into top spot with a win over Albirex tonight. But Sundram's men are recovering from a 2-1 Asian Football Confederation Cup defeat at Philippines side Ceres La Salle on Tuesday.

But with a national recall in his crosshairs, Mustafic wants three points against Albirex to take him closer to the red jersey.

"We know Albirex is a good team who look very strong this season, but I believe we have good players here who can do the job and big games like this suit us."

In yesterday's S-League matches, Geylang International drew 2-2 with Home United at Jalan Besar Stadium while defending champions Brunei DPMM beat Balestier Khalsa 3-1 in Bandar Seri Begawan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Mustafic eyes victory, national recall'. Print Edition | Subscribe