By Chee Seong - AFF Singapore correspondent
The first round of the Singapore Cup matches concluded with Hougang, Gombak, Albirex Niigata (S), Tampines Rovers, Home United, Etoie FC, SAFFC and Okkthar United (Myanmar) progressing to the quater finals.
In the opening match up between Hougang United and Harimau Muda (Young Tigers, as they're known), the hosts needed an injury time winner by Mamadou Diallo to earn its place in the last 8.
The Young Tigers from Malaysia with an average age of 17.5 yrs, put up a creditable fight and pushed the Cheetahs (Hougang) all the way to the final whistle. The Young Tigers played some lovely football and reminded spectators at Hougang that age isnt a factor on the pitch. There were a couple of occassion Hougang had to survive the prospect of mutiple attacks which fortunately for the Cheetahs, the Young Tigers couldnt apply the finishing touch.
The Cheetahs were also left fuming their bad luck as they themselves had two brilliant shots rebound off the cross bar. The match ended 0-0 in regulation time, but Mamadou Diallo settled matters in the 4th minute of injury time.
At the Jurong West Stadium, Gombak United had to come back from a goal down, to sink Balestier Khalsa 2-1.
Gombak's achievement was marred by controversy. Balestier went ahead after 48 minutes when an umarked Anaz Hadee blasted a rocket into the top right hand corner of the net. Gombak equalised thru substitute Zulkifli Hassim's debatable goal, with claims by Balestier that he had handled the ball past the defenders to go clean through on 67 minutes. Chang Jo Yoon scored the winner in the 77th minute when he was play through by Park Kang Jin.
Paul Cunningham could have levelled the scores right at the death but he skied his shot high and wide. For this achievement, Gombak qualifies for the last 8 for the first time in 3 years.
In the first of the two "all foreign" affair, Albirex Niigata (S) brushed South Melbourne aside with a 3-0 win at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
South Melbourne were missing key players such as Fernando De Moraes as well as regular skipper Steven O'Dor. Albirex were at full strength and the game also marked the return of skipper Shimpei Sakurada. Albirex led 1-0 at the break courtesy of Shotaro Ihata. The striker nodded home after some great work by Tatsuro Inui.
South Melbourne almost got themselves back into the game when Jesse Krncevic, the gaffer's son, rock the upright with a thumping header midway through the first half. As fatigue set in, due to the travelling and the climate change, South Melbourne finally succumbed to pressure. Atsushi Shimono and Shimpei Sakurada compelete the job in the 85th and 89th minute to take the White Swans into the next round. A brilliant game of top notch football, not one to be missed to be honest!
The eastern derby always produces a good games and this tie continued in that vein.
Depleted Tampines Rovers beat Geylang United 2-1 with the winner coming in the 88th minute from "little master", Aliff Shafaein. Aleksander Duric had given the lead on the half hour mark, and Vasile Ghindaru levelled the scores just before the hour mark. As the tie seemed destined for extra time, Aliff poped up unmarked to pounce home from close range after Yazid Yasin did well to parry a shot onto his path.
Tampines will probably feel a little fortunate that the tie was concluded in regulation time, as they had only 2 senior players on the bench. Had it gone to extra time, it might have gone the other way.
At the Bishan Stadium, Home United brushed aside Woodlands Wellington with a convincing 5-1 victory in a pretty one sided affair.
Firdaus Idros opened the scoring when Rams custodian fail to hold on to a high ball in the 29th minute. Kenji Arai, then score the simpliest of goals when he nod home right at the goaline from a Valery Hiek's flick. In the second half, substitute Asraf Rashid score within four minutes of his introduction onto the pitch.
Adrian Butlers pulled one back for the Rams, before Qiu Li's double completed the rout. Woodlands were delpeted from injuries and International call ups and had to make do with several reserve players for this tie. The Protectors (Home United) will now play traditional rivals Tampines Rovers in the Quater finals in August.
This will be a mouth watering clash as the winner of this tie will probably stand a big chance of securing the Cup come 5 November.
Reigning S.League champions Etoile FC were made to work against a very deligent Tanjong Pagar United side, which saw Taufiq Rahmat and Cyril Bagnost playing instrumental roles in this tie.
Despite the defeat, Tanjong Pagar took heart from their performance on the pitch and head coach Terry Pathmanathan is optimistic on big things to come for the remaining of the season. Jonathan Toto scored a brace, and both goals, were due to two defensive lapses during the game. Other than the goals, it was a pretty evenly fought match which we saw the Jaguars (Tanjong Pagar) came out to attack for once.
Gone were the "bus parking" tactics and there was industry and creativity in every area on the pitch. Etoile look solid as ever, despite being out of competitve action for close to a month. At the end of the day, there was only one team that could progress and Etoile took their chances and their ticket to the next round were booked.
At Choa Chu Kang stadium, three-times Singapore Cup winners SAFFC finally broke a two-year streak of crashing out in the group stages. Singapore Selection team midfielder, Erwan Gunawan justified his recent call up with a splendid display, scoring two goals, as well as assisting Indra Shahdan in between his goals. Substitute Fazrul Nawas scored within minutes of coming on to ensure there's no way back for Phnom Penh.
A realtively one sided affair but Kingsley Njoku, former Gombak United's striker, was a constant threat to the Warriors defence. At the end of the day, SAF proved too strong for the Cambodian champions and set up another mouth watering clash with Albirex Niigata (S).
In the second of the "All foreign" encounter, Myanmar side Okkthar United led by former Singapore National Coach PN Sivaji overcame their rivals Pattaya United 2-1 in an interesting encounter. About 1200 Myanmar fans turned up at the Jalan Besar Stadium for this match which was telecast live and these people made their intention know - to qualify for the next round.
Okkthar United drew first blood in the 7th minute of play when Aung Moe cleverly lobbed the Pattaya goalkeeper and with a huge slice of luck, the ball spin off the bounce and onto the upright and into the net. The fans went wild.
Prior to this, Okkthar United had never played a game under floodlights as the National league's games are all played at 3:30pm local time.
Jean Roger Lappe Lappe then doubled that advantage when he scored within minutes of coming on as a substitute. The second half was dominated by Pattaya but they couldnt find a way past Cameroonian Pierre Djanal, who kept goal for Okkthar. Somchai Singmanee scored a consolation in the final minute of added on time, but it proved too late as the side from Myanmar book a meeting with Hougang United in the next round.
The quater-finals will be scheduled between 14 August to 21 August. Games will be played over 2 legs.
The fixtures are as follows:
Home United vs Tampines
Etoile FC vs Gombak United
SAFFC vs Albirex Niigata (S)
Hougang United vs Okkthar United (Myanmar)