Written by: Ryan Low
Tampines Rovers took a small step towards reaching the 2016 RHB Singapore Cup final after a 2-1 win over Philippines invitees Ceres La Salle in the first-leg of the semi-final tie at the Jurong West Stadium on Sunday night.
It was all level at the break after Bienvenido Morejon had cancelled out Mustafic Fahrudin’s opener, but the Stags would prevail narrowly via Sufian Anuar’s strike early in the second-half.
Tampines got off to a great start in the game by scoring in the 12th minute. After Billy Mehmet was brought down 25 yards from goal, up stepped captain Mustafic to curl a stunning free kick that left Ceres goalkeeper Louie Casas grasping at thin air.
Ceres restored parity just five minutes though, with Morejon taking advantage of some hesitant Stags defending to slot underneath the onrushing Izwan Mahbud from close range.
There was little goalmouth action for the rest of the first half, but Tampines managed to restore their lead four minutes after the break.
Izzdin Shafiq’s long shot got a deflection before falling to a lurking Sufian, who reacted well to stab home the loose ball from eight yards out.
Just like the first-half, Ceres almost found a quick equaliser when Patrick Reichelt was brought down by Irwan Shah in the area. However, Morejon’s resulting spot-kick was parried by Izwan before the latter smothered it on the second attempt.
The Busmen kept coming and went close again on 68 minutes, with Jason Sabio’s header from Jeffrey Christiaens’ free kick landing just wide of the left-hand post.
Tampines were determined to go into Wednesday’s second leg at the Jalan Besar Stadium with a larger lead, but Jordan Webb spurned two good opportunities late on to make it 3-1.
The Stags was reduced to 10 men in injury time as Shakir Hamzah was dismissed for a second bookable offence, but held on to put one foot into the Cup final.
Ceres La Salle technical director Ali Bernard: “The players gave everything they had against a very strong opponent in Tampines. You have a very good league here in Singapore and we try our best to go to the same level.
“It’s important for my players to recover and we will have three players (Kevin Ingreso, Manuel Ott and Stephan Schrock) back for the second leg. It’ll be an exciting game and whoever wins deserve to go through.”
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK), Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Fahrudin Mustafic (C), Shakir Hamzah, Jordan Webb, Izzdin Shafiq, Hafiz Sujad, Irwan Shah, Sufian Anuar (Jermaine Pennant 75’), Billy Mehmet
Ceres La Salle: Louie Casas (GK), Son Yong Chan, Jason Sabio, Kim Sang Min (C), Bienvenido Morejon, Carlos Martinez (Jalsor Soriano 73’), Arnie Jr. Pasinabo (Marwin Angeles 83’), Paul Mulders, Martin Steuble, Jeffrey Christiaens, Patrick Reichelt