RHB Singapore Cup: Teams relaxed ahead of big night
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
For two sides gearing up for arguably the biggest match of their 2012 season, both Tampines Rovers and SAFFC are in remarkably relaxed mood.
And the fact that both teams are showing no signs of the occasion getting to them bodes well when the RHB Singapore Cup 2012 final kicks off at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday evening.
The lighthearted mood among the SAFFC personnel was hard to miss, especially in the early period of their training session at the match ground.
Aliff Shafaein got a ribbing from his teammates as he turned up for the session slightly late, Fazrul Nawaz constantly shared jokes as he changed into his training kit, and Richard Bok joined in during the warm-up games, gladly doing the forfeits whenever it was his turn.
The sight was similar when Tampines did their workout on the same field on the eve of the game, as the likes of Imran Sahib and Noh Alam Shah had slightly tired but worry-free smiles on their faces towards the end of their session.
Apart from a rant of frustration by Fahrudin Mustafic that came after he had missed a penalty, the Stags looked about as ready as they could be for their chance to complete the first leg of a domestic double.
The hallmark of a team rich in experience when it comes to the big occasion is their ability to unwind ahead of the event, and coming from these two teams, the signs were no surprise at all.
Tampines had lifted this trophy thrice before, with Aliff and Alam Shah among those who had featured for the Stags in 2006, while Imran and French defender Benoit Croissant were part of the team that fell in the final four years later.
Also in that 2010 team was Aleksandar Duric, who was teammates with Shahril Jantan, Daniel Bennett et al when they won back-to-back Cups in the colours of SAFFC in 2007 and 2008.
With a number of other players in both sides having experience in other finals as well, staying cool ahead of Sunday’s encounter came quite naturally – and that extends to both coaches as well.
Bok, who will be appearing in his third RHB Singapore Cup final as head coach of the Warriors, was distinctly casual when speaking to sleague.com on the eve of the match, knowing there was little to say other than the obvious.
“I think the boys are all looking forward to the game,” he said.
“It’s a Cup final, so everybody’s motivated to do well in the final. We’ve got no suspensions, no injuries – so, that’s it!
“How we do all depends on the execution of our plan, and how much hunger and desire they have in wanting to win the Cup. They’re not just playing to win it for me; it’s also about winning it for themselves!”
While Bok may be a veteran when it comes to cup finals, having also steered the Warriors to the League Cup final in 2009, Sunday marks a first time for Tay, who took charge of the Stags only two months ago.
The former National Football Academy head looked comfortable as he sat down at the end of his team’s training session, however, and he confirmed as much when speaking to sleague.com.
“I feel okay, more relaxed now, now that all the preparation work is done,” he said.
“We’ve had a very relaxed session today, just to calm everybody down; I think that’s the key. This is a Cup final, and we know how much both teams want to win it.
“I don’t know about SAFFC, but if we win this one, it will help us to concentrate on the last game. We’re aiming for two titles, and if we win both games, we win both titles.
“But let’s put it this way, we are facing two very crucial games, and we’re looking at this game against SAFFC first. As for the future, I can only answer that question when we’re done with this season!”
SAFFC head into this game with a full squad at their disposal, as skipper Bennett has recovered from a fever that had been troubling him last week.
The centreback is expected to partner Marin Vidosevic in defence for this final, after both had sat out of the team’s 6-1 drubbing of Gombak United in a league fixture on Monday.
Tampines meanwhile have to make a number of tactical shifts to cope with suspensions for defender Anaz Hadee and midfielder Gligor Gligorov, with Mustafic shifting back to anchor their three-man rearguard.
Sazali Salleh and Jamil Ali are thus likely to join Ahmad Latiff Khamarudin in the engine room, after both were spotted among the ‘Probables’ in a spar with the ‘Possibles’, which included Alam Shah and Ahmed Fahmie.
The decision to start Jamil, who had featured in the 2007 and 2008 finals for the Warriors, is particularly intriguing, given that the highly-rated winger has been limited to a substitute role in the team since Tay took the reins.
But the former National Football Academy head was more than happy to praise his No.17, who scored in both of his previous starts in this year’s tournament.
“To me, Jamil is a good player, you know,” he commented.
“It’s just that, with the circumstances we have, it’s sometimes difficult to put everybody into the starting eleven. But I wouldn’t put him down, he’s a good player.”
Jamil adds to the long list of talents on both sides who have the capacity to excite the fans in this much-anticipated tie, but huge occasions like this have sometimes failed to live up to the hype owing to a conservative approach by the participating players.
That caution was reflected somewhat the last time these two teams crossed paths in the league, when the first half produced limited chances and no goals.
Things changed radically in the second period, when an early strike by SAFFC’s Shimpei Sakurada injected some much-needed energy to produce a five-goal thriller that culminated in Jamil’s injury-time winner.
Bok was of the opinion that having some of that energy carry over into Sunday’s final would be most welcome, so as to deliver a spectacle for everyone who is turning up at Jalan Besar.
“If you look at last week’s game, that was a very good game of football,” said the 43-year-old.
“It was a good, open game, good for the public to see. Hopefully we’ll have a similar game, although of course I hope the result will read the other way around!”
“It’s going to be a bit like the league game, but it’s also a bit different,” noted Tay.
“We only had 90 minutes in the league game, and we needed to win because we were chasing the title. Here, we’ve got extra time and penalties to settle things, so we can take our time.”