SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Tampines Rovers 3
Geylang International 1
If the new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season is an experiment of talent development, early test results came in yesterday evening.
In front of an estimated 3,000 fans at Our Tampines Hub, experienced Tampines Rovers defeated a youthful Geylang International, fielding five Under-23 footballers, 3-1. But it was not a case of the veterans easily swatting the rookies aside.
The SPL mandates that each local club must start every game with at least three U-23s to give budding players exposure and this clash in the east was also a battle of know-how versus vigour.
The first half belonged to the hosts as they dominated possession, pinged passes around and made the visitors do the chasing.
Geylang are a team that play with a big heart. They have also shown today that they have quality.
JURGEN RAAB , Tampines Rovers coach, praising Geylang International who fielded five Under-23 footballers.
It took just 23 seconds for Japanese winger Ryutaro Megumi to break down the right to lay the ball for Jordan Webb to tap home.
And in the 36th minute, Tampines captain Fahrudin Mustafic, 37, demonstrated the wisdom accumulated over the years by dribbling out of central defence before splitting Geylang wide open for Megumi to set up Webb for another easy finish.
But as Tampines coach Jurgen Raab noted: "Geylang are a team that play with a big heart. They have also shown today that they have quality. Shawal (Anuar) is very quick and that goal was a shock for my team. But we kept our nerve and deserved the win."
That goal in question came on the stroke of half-time when national team forward Shawal unlocked the Stags' offside trap, leaving midfielder Fairoz Hassan to pull one back from an open goal.
The second half belonged to Geylang as the young team not only demonstrated their pace, they also showed they are fast learners.
Eagles coach Hirotaka Usui started with defender Darren Teh (22 years old) and midfield duo Ryan Shaffiq (23) and Danish Irfan (19) before bringing on midfielders Muhammad Noor Ariff (20) and Yeo Hai Ngee (23) as he tried to unbalance Tampines with a heavy dose of pressing.
"We want the three points, but our other target is youth development, that's why I used five U-23 players in this game. This is good for Singapore's future," said the Japanese tactician.
But, with nine minutes left, Geylang skipper Anders Aplin was adjudged to have fouled striker Khairul Amri inside the box by referee G. Letchman. From the resultant spot-kick, Amri sealed victory.
While it was entertainment for the fans, who witnessed goals and a good tactical battle, it was educational for the two coaches who took on board the lessons on the pitch.
Raab urged the Stags to learn from composed centre-back Fahrudin, saying: "Fahrudin is the head of the team and you need calmness and patience if you play in this position. And that is what I want from all our players.
"Fahrudin is a player who knows how to play the right ball in the right situation and, if the whole team can do this, we can control the entire game."
For Usui, he hopes his youngsters can be more composed on the ball.
He said: "They must improve in keeping possession. I understand that our players can run a lot but, if we are to progress, we have to keep the ball."