Open season for all cup semi-final spots

Andrei Varankou, top scorer in this year's Singapore Premier League and teammate Blake Ricciuto (right) will try to fulfil Brunei DPMM's dream of completing a league and Cup double. Having sewn up the SPL, their Cup campaign continues tonight against
Andrei Varankou, top scorer in this year's Singapore Premier League and teammate Blake Ricciuto (right) will try to fulfil Brunei DPMM's dream of completing a league and Cup double. Having sewn up the SPL, their Cup campaign continues tonight against defending champions Albirex Niigata.LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Defending champions Albirex play league winners Brunei to seal slot in knockout stages

In the words of Manchester United's legendary manager Alex Ferguson, tonight is squeaky bum time in the Komoco Singapore Cup.

This year, local football's biggest Cup competition, previously a two-legged knockout tournament, features a group stage to determine the semi-finalists.

And the format change has thrown up a tense scenario: All eight teams still have a chance to be in the final four, with the last round of group matches tonight.

For defending champions Albirex Niigata, chasing their fifth straight Singapore Cup, only a win will confirm a semi-final spot.

The Japanese team are second in Group B with three points, one behind Brunei DPMM. Both will play at the Jurong East Stadium.

In the group's other match, Hougang United - also on three points but third due to an inferior goal difference - face Geylang International (one point) at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

White Swans team manager Matthew Sean said his side are not distracted by the various permutations that could play out and insisted they are focused on beating Singapore Premier League champions DPMM.

"Our target in the Singapore Cup this year is to be champions again," he said. "We know we just have to focus on this game and look for the win that will help us progress.

"We are playing at home, too, so the players will have added motivation from our fans."

A draw will be sufficient for DPMM but coach Adrian Pennock, 48, vowed his side would not adopt a conservative approach.

"We'll be going there for the win," insisted the former Stoke City assistant manager.

"It's the only way I prepare my teams. No way are we going into a game looking for a draw."

Pennock, who was in the Stoke dugout when the Potters played the 2011 FA Cup final, said this year's Singapore Cup format has given the tournament added buzz.

"It's now like the knockout stage already, because both groups are so tight," he said. "I like it. It's exciting for everybody involved."

He admitted he was keen to complete a dream double to cap his first season in charge of DPMM, having lifted the league trophy last month.

"(DPMM) have never won the Singapore Cup, so it would be lovely to win," he said.

"I can see why it's so difficult because (in the Singapore Cup) we're away from home in every single game (playing matches in Singapore). But if we win, it would be the icing on the cake."

The situation in Group A is identical. Warriors FC lead the table with four points and need only a point against Balestier Khalsa (third with three points) at Bishan Stadium to progress into the semi-finals.

Also, second-placed Tampines Rovers (three points) and Home United (one point) meet at Our Tampines Hub.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Open season for all cup semi-final spots'. Print Edition | Subscribe