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[Singapore Cup] - Tampines Rovers STRETCHED To The Final ...

Tampines faced an aggressive opponents in Ceres (black)
Tampines Rovers knew that something wasn't quite right when they took on UFL side Ceres La Salle in the returning leg of their RHB Singapore Cup semi-final fixture at the Jalan Besar Stadium last evening.

The Stags were a depleted side with several notable absentees like skipper Fahrudin Mustafic (suspension), Fazrul Nawaz (injury), etc. thus taking on an aggressive side like Ceres would meant to see both their mental and physical strength being put a test right from the start.

Encounters like this were common occurrences 
Which was eventually the case when the team from Bacolod raided the designated away side with sheer aggressiveness that barely allowed the latter any freedom to roam around.

Not less than three times in a space of fifteenth minutes since the kickoff saw Ceres being awarded free kicks from the edge of the box after Azkal international Patrick Reichelt effectively forced Tampines committed those fouls to their advantage.

Ismadi Mukhtar kept Stephan Schrock (11) checked 
None of those attempts, however, did any damage to the AFC Cup quarter-finalists who managed to steer clear of any danger posed to them until the 45th minute when Ceres put one up before the interval via another Filipino international Stephan Schrock from the spot after referee Muhd Taqi ruled defender Jufri Taha was guilty for a yellow card offence in the box that will rule him out of the final.

That sucker punch did not derail the fighting spirit of Tampines who appeared to be more composed and organized in the second half and was duly awarded for their effort in the 57th minute.

Lions defender Hafiz Abu Sujad was at the receiving end of a Billy Mehmet pass before unleashed a volley from close range to give the Stags a 3-2 lead on aggregate.

Hafiz Sujad (right) scored for Tampines 
But the men-in-yellow did not follow much from there onwards, as they found it hard to break down a resilient Ceres backline marshalled by their Korean skipper Kim Sang Ming.

As the result, the game was forced into extra time after the 78th minute effort by the industrious Reichelt to make it 2-1 to level the overall score 3-3.

Nonetheless, all those efforts were futile as Tampines are determined to keep things in shape when goals in each half of extra time from Afiq Yunos (in the 105th minute) and Saifullah Akbar (112th) propelled them to their first Singapore Cup final since 2012 when they were runners-up to SAFFC (now Warriors FC) on 5-3 aggregate.

Stags thank their fans after the win
Already have their hands tied with the ongoing S.League title chase and their upcoming continental commitments, Stags head coach Akbar Nawas reaffirmed his "one-game-at-a-time" policy after the match.

Said the bespectacled coach:"It's difficult for us to set any priority now and I felt that taking 'one game at a time' works for us.

"Hopefully, after the break that comes by we will have our players available for us (for the remaining of the season)."


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