Written by: Ryan Low
A thrilling 3-2 extra time win in the second leg of the semi-finals at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday night helped Tampines Rovers to overcome Philippines invitee Ceres La Salle 5-3 on aggregate and reach the 2016 RHB Singapore Cup final.
Tampines had won the first leg 2-1 three days ago, but Stephan Schrock levelled the score on aggregate via a first-half penalty.
Hafiz Sujad struck early in the second half to wrestle the initiative back for the Stags, but Ceres restored parity once again through Patrick Reichelt.
The match headed for extra time where goals from Afiq Yunos and Saifullah Akbar sealed the deal for Tampines, as they qualified for their first Singapore Cup since 2012.
It was a closely-fought first half where both sides struggled to find their rhythm, but Ceres would end it on top just before the break.
The referee had no hesitation to signal for a penalty after Afiq handled Manuel Ott’s close-range shot, with Schrock duly making no mistakes from the spot.
Tampines would level it up on the night and go 3-2 up on aggregate 12 minutes into the second half, with Hafiz firing home a first-time volley from 10 yards out after being teed up by Billy Mehmet.
However, Ceres refused to go away and levelled matters again in the 78th minute.
Reichelt reacted the quickest in the box to direct Jeffrey Christiaen’s inswinging cross from the right past the stranded Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud to force extra-time.
Things, however, went pear-shaped for the Busmen as they would end regulation time one man down after Paul Mulders was sent off for a second bookable offence.
The reigning United Football League champions would further go down to nine men in extra time, as they had already used up the three substitutions when Reichelt was stretched off due to injury.
Tampines fully took advantage of the numerical disparity to go ahead 4-3 on aggregate in the 105th minute.
Afiq made amends for his part in the opening goal as he rose the highest in the area to nod home Irwan Shah’s teasing left-wing cross.
The Stags finished the job seven minutes later, with Canadian winger Jordan Webb taking out three defenders with a mazy run before unselfishly setting up substitute Saifullah Akbar to slot past Ceres custodian Louie Casas.
The goal sparked raucous celebrations from the Tampines bench and the three-time Singapore Cup champions would hold on to progress into the final, where they face either Balestier Khalsa or Albirex Niigata (S)
Ceres La Salle caretaker coach Ali Bernard: “We had a good tournament overall and we played a good game tonight. For me, I believe playing conservatively is not good.
“We showed everyone that we can play football and they did everything they could. But the incidents came and we got the cards. At 10 men, it’s difficult to play against a strong team like Tampines. At nine men, it was almost impossible.
“The winner was the crowd tonight; they were excellent and loud.”
Tampines Rovers head coach Akbar Nawas: “It’s an ecstatic feeling to reach the final. The way the players fought tonight, you cannot ask for more. Of course it (Ceres going down to nine men) helped us, but we still needed to be patient; to stretch them on the flanks to score the goals.
“Football is an emotional game and it is good that the team are having good emotions now. The final is still a few months away so I’m thinking about that yet.
“We have a S.League game against Home (United) on 10th September, before flying off to India two days later for our AFC Cup (quarter-final first leg) game (against Bengaluru). It’s going to be tough, so I’m taking one game at one time now.”
Ceres La Salle: Louie Casas (GK), Jason Sabio (Jalsor Soriano 91’), Kevin Ingreso, Kim Sang Min (C), Bienvenido Morejon, Manuel Ott (Arnie Jr. Pasinabo 75’), Stephan Schrock, Carlos Martinez (Jeffrey Christiaens 55’), Paul Mulders, Martin Steuble, Patrick Reichelt
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud (GK, C), Ismadi Mukhtar, Jufri Taha, Jermaine Pennant, Jordan Webb, Izzdin Shafiq, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Sujad, Irwan Shah, Sufian Anuar (Saifullah Akbar 106’), Billy Mehmet (Shafie Mulianto 114’)