Written by: Shawn Lim
RHB Singapore Cup 2016 (Semi-Final 2nd Leg)
Ceres La Salle vs Tampines Rovers
(Wednesday, 24 August, 7.45pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
A depleted Tampines Rovers side will have to dig deep to hold on to their advantage over Ceres La Salle and secure safe passage into the RHB Singapore Cup final when the two sides meet again on Wednesday night in the semi-final second-leg at Jalan Besar Stadium.
The Stags eked out a 2-1 victory over the Busmen in the first-leg at Jurong West Stadium on Sunday night, but the win came at cost for Akbar Nawas' charges as Shakir Hamzah was sent off, while captain Mustafic Fahrudin picked up his second yellow card of the competition.
Shakir and Mustafic will join Yasir Hanapi, who is suspended for both legs, on the sidelines and if that is not enough, Fabian Kwok has been ruled out for a month because of a tear in his knee, while Fazrul Nawaz has joined Shahdan Sulaiman on the long-term injury list.
That leaves Tampines with only 10 outfield first-team players when they face Ceres again and they will be forced to call upon their Prime League players to make up the numbers on the bench or on the field.
Akbar has acknowledged that it will be an uphill task to secure victory again, especially since Ceres are still very much alive in the tie and only have a goal difference to make up for.
However, the 41-year-old coach believes that tough times like this builds character and if his charges stay tight as a unit, their teamwork will see them through.
"The second leg will be really tough because I will be missing Farra (Mustafic), Shakir and Yasir (Hanapi)," said the coach after the first-leg victory over Ceres.
"Right now I only have 10 outfield players plus two goalkeepers; the rest are Prime League players.
"It’s tough during times like this, but if the team keeps together and fight, we can nick it."
As for the Filipino club, they will be boosted by the return of first-team players Kevin Ingreso, Manuel Ott and Stephan Schrock after the trio missed the first-leg through injuries.
The United Football League defending champions more than held their own against the Stags despite missing their key players and believe that another such display will be enough to book their spot in the final.
However, Ceres head coach Risto Vidakovic will be missing from the touchline after being sent to the stands in the first-leg, with technical director Ali Bernard set to take over coaching duties.
Suspension: Shakir Hamzah, Mustafic Fahrudin and Yasir Hanapi (Tampines Rovers), Risto Vidakovic (Ceres La Salle)