Tampines raring to go the distance

Tampines Rovers' Daniel Bennett keeping a watchful eye on the ball during their AFC Champions League play-off against Bali United. The Stags' defensive stalwart will be counted upon by coach Gavin Lee to shore up his side's rearguard. ST PHOTO: ARIFF
Tampines Rovers' Daniel Bennett keeping a watchful eye on the ball during their AFC Champions League play-off against Bali United. The Stags' defensive stalwart will be counted upon by coach Gavin Lee to shore up his side's rearguard.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Coach hopes men can stay fresh and healthy like last year to compete on multiple fronts

There might be fewer yellow shirts in the Jalan Besar Stadium stands to cheer his side on, but Tampines Rovers coach Gavin Lee is focused only on the ones on the pitch in tonight's AFC Cup clash.

The Stags host Indonesian side PSM Makassar in their Group H opener, which is also the first professional football game played in Singapore since the government upped its disease outbreak response to code orange owing to the coronavirus last Friday.

Ticket sales as of Tuesday, noted a club official, are 30 per cent lower than their last match at the same stadium on Jan 14, when 1,400 watched their 5-3 loss after extra time to Bali United in the top-tier Asian Champions League play-off.

But Lee was not concerned ahead of the second-tier Asian Football Confederation (AFC) competition.

"I think it'll be an exciting game. Makassar are a strong team and won the Indonesian Cup last year, and they've improved the team with new signings," he said.

"We're all very excited to start the AFC Cup campaign."

A gruelling season is in store for the Stags, who will represent the Republic in the inaugural Asean Football Federation (AFF) Asean Club Championship, reportedly set to run from March to November.

Regional and continental exertions, on top of domestic commitments, will see them chalk up more than 40 games this term.

Last year, they played 36 matches as they lifted the Singapore Cup and finished runners-up in the Singapore Premier League.

Lee, 29, was content with his squad's depth and added: "One area we were quite successful with last year, and hopefully that will continue this year, was our ability to stay fresh and injury-free.

"With senior players like Yasir (Hanapi) and Daniel (Bennett), who can manage themselves quite well off the pitch, we have the squad to go all the way this season."

FIGHTING FIT

One area we were quite successful with last year, and hopefully that will continue this year, was our ability to stay fresh and injury-free. Periodisation will be a little bit more important this year.

GAVIN LEE, Tampines coach, outlining the importance of his team staying healthy through the season.

Makassar coach Bojan Hodak pointed to the settled nature of Tampines' squad as being one of their key strengths and added this was in contrast to his side.

"Even in an office, if you have four or five new employees you need time to understand each other," said the Croatian.

"It's the same here. We had six or seven players play for the first time together in our first match (on Jan 22) and, for this match, we will have another two or three also playing together for the first time.

"So we will need a little bit of time and training before we can get better."

Hodak, 48, is a familiar face on the Singapore scene, having played for Balestier Central, now known as Balestier Khalsa, and the now-defunct Jurong FC in the late 1990s.

He said he and his players were not perturbed by the coronavirus situation. Yesterday, there were 47 reported cases in Singapore, the highest after China and Japan. Indonesia has yet to report a case of the highly infectious disease.

The AFC said yesterday that AFC Cup matches involving teams from East Asia have been rescheduled for April. Matches between Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar City and Chinese Taipei's Taipower Company had already been postponed owing to travel restrictions.

Hodak said: "Singapore is always organised when it comes to things like this. The virus, I think, is more of a problem (indoors) in shopping centres and hotels.

"On the pitch, we won't have this problem to deal with."

Tampines plan to pay tribute to their former player Shariff Samat who died on Monday aged 36 from a heart attack. They are seeking clearance to hold a minute of silence before kick-off and for players to wear black armbands to honour their former defender.

Last night, Hougang beat Lao Toyota 3-1 in Vientiane in Group F with a goal by Charlie Machell and a brace by Stipe Plazibat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 12, 2020, with the headline 'Tampines raring to go the distance'. Print Edition | Subscribe