Tampines Rovers 3 (Sead Hadzibulic 39’, Gligorov Gligorov 73’, Ahmad Latiff 119’)
Albirex Niigata (S) 3 (Sho Kamimura 37’, 66’, Shimono 96’)
(Score after 120 minutes: 3-3; Tampines win 6-5 on penalties)
A 393-strong crowd was present at the Clementi Stadium to witness a six-goal thriller between Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S), in which Tampines prevailed after penalties as the winner could not be decided even after thirty minutes of extra time.
Kamimura put Albirex into the lead in the 37th minute only to see his opener cancelled out two minutes later by the in-form Sead Hadzibulic. Kamimura then put the White Swans ahead again in the 66th minute but Tampines were back with another equaliser through Gligor Gligorov seven minutes later to force the game into extra time.
The opening exchanges saw Albirex having better of the possession but it was Tampines who actually threatened to open the scoring but were denied by poor finishing and decision-making in their final third.
Ahmad Latiff fired the first shot of the game after six minutes, firing it over from 20 yards out. And in the 13th minute, skipper Aleksandar Duric had a good chance to put his side in front after Gligor Gligorov set him up for a shot on the edge of the area but the evergreen forward could only shoot wide from six yards out.
The Stags then had a penalty shout turned down in the 25th minute when Masatake Sato looked to have handled in the area. Albirex had their first attempt on goal in the 28th minute through winger Sho Kamimura whose shot was not enough to trouble Sasa Dreven in goal for Tampines.
On the other end a minute later, Sead Hadzibulic – who had missed both Tampines’ group games – raced down the middle and hit a shot which went wide of Takuma Ito’s left-hand post.
It was the White Swans, however, who broke the deadlock in the 37th minute through Kamimura in a well-worked goal; Masatake Sato heading down Takeshi Ito’s cross from the left into the path for Kamimura, who improvised to unleash an unstoppable volley into the top corner past a hapless Dreven.
Their celebrations were short-lived though, as Hadzibulic grabbed the equaliser for Steven Tan’s side merely two minutes later. Not as sophisticated as the opener but instead, a straightforward finish from the mid-season signing as he headed home Anaz Hadee’s cross past Ito.
The first chance of the second half arrived only in the 62nd minute with Kunihiro Yamashita sending his header straight at Dreven. However, Albirex would take the lead once again four minutes after that miss as the lively Kamimura struck, taking advantage of hesitant defending from the Tampines defence to score from close range.
However, Albirex would again allow the lead to slip as Tampines equalised in the 73th minute. Jamil Ali picked up Alam Shah’s pass and the winger took the ball past the onrushing Takuma Ito before squaring the ball to Gligor Gligorov who pushed the ball past the line to level things up.
Yasuhiro Yamakoshi then tested Dreven in the 78th minute, who did well to push the forward’s shot away. Good movement from the attacking trio of Jamil Ali, Sead Hadzibulic and substitute Noh Alam Shah in the 85th minute saw Ahmad Latiff’s effort from the edge from the area parried away by Ito and from the resulting corner, Duric could only head narrowly wide at the far post.
Gligorov then almost grabbed the winner for Tampines right at the death of regulation time but saw his volley sail just over the bar after Takuma Ito had done well to claw Hadzibulic’s attempt away.
Albirex strike first
And it was Albirex who were in front six minutes in extra time. Atsushi Shimono latched onto Sho Kamimura’s pass before racing through on goal to fire past Sasa Dreven into the bottom corner. Tampines rallied forward in numbers and almost found the equaliser in the 116th minute when substitute Noh Alam Shah headed just wide off another Imran cross. But not to be undone, Tampines grabbed a late equaliser with one minute remaining, albeit under controversial circumstances.
Tampines were awarded a contentious freekick on the edge of the area and up stepped Gligorov whose shot rebounded off the upright. Quickest to the ball was another substitute Ahmed Fahmie as he looked to bury it, only to see Takuma Ito rushing off his line to parry it. However, the ball fell to midfielder Ahmad Latiff who poked the ball underneath the outstretched arms of Ito as penalties followed.
Tampines’ Noh Alam Shah, Gligor Gligorov, Sead Hadzibulic, Ahmed Fahmie and Aleksandar Duric all successfully converted their spot-kicks while Yasuhiro Yamakoshi, Sho Kamimura, Takeshi Ito, Shuhei Hotta and captain Norihiro Kawakami also made no mistake from the spot.
The sixth kick though, decided the winner. Tampines’ Sasa Dreven converted it but it was not to be for Albirex’s Hidekazu Yamamoto as he saw his penalty saved by Dreven – who went the right way - to redeem himself after an error which resulted in Albirex’s second goal during the game.
A rather relieved Tampines head coach Steven Tan praised the effort of his players and gladly admitted that it was an ‘entertaining game’ for the fans.
“An entertaining (game throughout) for the fans right till the end! Some of the players looked tired but they never gave up and kept plugging away. It was hard for the players, especially those who are fasting.”
“We will now recharge and regroup and hopefully by Wednesday, we will have everything back.”
“However, I have a number of injury worries. Fahrudin (Mustafic) looked like he’s suffered a dead leg and Ismadi (Mukhtar) has a heel problem. But Ben(oit Croissant) should be back,” Tan added.
When asked about the freekick which resulted in Ahmad Latiff’s late equaliser, Albirex’s Koichi Sugiyama replied with a tinge of disappointment: “I don’t think there was a foul there and the freekick should never have been awarded (in the first place).”
“I would like to thank the players and staff. They never gave up. We played well and that’s why we could score,” said Sugiyama with the aid of a translator.
“I was generally pleased with the team’s performance today. There aren’t many teams who can score so many goals against Tampines and we played very well,” the Japanese reiterated.
Fatigue was however not the main cause for the defeat, according to Sugiyama as he thought Tampines were tired as well.
“I don’t think we lost because of that (fatigue). Tampines were equally tired as well.”
Albirex team manager Koh Mui Tee later added and seemed to agree with what coach Sugiyama had said earlier: “The referee (Abdul Malik) gave many soft decisions against my team, especially with regards to (Aleksandar Duric) and other big name local players such as Noh Alam Shah and Ahmad Latiff.”
Tampines: Sasa Dreven; Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic, Anaz Hadee; Imran Sahib, Gligor Gligorov, Ahmad Latiff, Sazali Salleh (Noh Alam Shah 69’); Jamil Ali (Ahmed Fahmie 101’), Aleksandar Duric (C), Sead Hadzibulic
Unused subs: Hafez Mawasi, Fazil Zailani, Benoit Croissant, Hairulnazri Hanafi, Syafiq Siraj
Albirex: Takuma Ito; Takeshi Ito, Kunihiro Yamashita, Norihiro Kawakami, Yuki Ichikawa (Hidekazu Yamamoto 103’); Sho Kamimura, Shuhei Hotta, Keisuke Matsui (Keita Kobayashi 113’), Atsushi Shimono, Masatake Sato (Toshikazu Soya 115’); Yasuhiro Yamakoshi
Unused subs: Hiroaki Hara, Yuhei Shiratori, Yuta Oguriyama, Masahiko Ando
Yellow card(s): Fahrudin Mustafic (Tampines); Keisuke Matsui (Albirex)
You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlleOAlle, and reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org