Featured, Football

Preview: AFC Cup – Selangor vs Tampines Rovers

If you’re in KL this week, you wouldn’t want to miss this fixture. Tampines Rovers will be travelling to take on Selangor in what should be an explosive AFC Cup fixture at the MP Selayang Stadium on Tuesday night.

It’s bit of a titanic battle, really. On one hand, you’ve got Selangor FA – arguably Malaysia’s biggest football club in terms of history. On the other hand, you’ve got Tampines Rovers – Singapore’s premier football club that’s now being spearheaded by the presence of ex-Liverpool and Arsenal winger, Jermaine Pennant.

More importantly though, these are two sides with plenty of desire to play attacking football. There’s pace, there’s trickery and there’s certainly quality – enough to make a football game pretty explosive.


Photo Credit: Asiana.my
Photo Credit: Asiana.my

Zainal Abidin’s life at Selangor had the perfect beginning. They drew 1-1 with powerhouses JDT in their first game, before going on an impressive run four wins and one draw – one one of it was a home game. In fact, their only draw came against Ceres, in their first AFC Cup fixture, two weeks ago. But their fantastic momentum took a wild hit last Friday, as they were sent packing from the FA Cup after a 2-1 defeat at the hands of PDRM FA.

But it wasn’t really a surprise, if you take a closer look. They’ve only kept two clean sheets so far. The first one was against Perak – a side that has only scored two goals in four MSL games so far. The second one was against AirAsiaFC – a team that’s well below Selangor in terms of quality. Otherwise, the Red Giants’ defensive set-up has looked considerably shaky. Razman Roslan and Shahrom Kalam, despite being vastly experienced, have not had the liberty of time ti forge a better understanding. Australian defender Rob Cornthwaite’s injury forced both men to pair up with one another, but judging by their lack of compatibility, it’s definitely an issue that needs to be dealt with.

On the offensive department though, there’s plenty of positives. Patrick Ronaldinho is starting to look like an astute acquisition with his return of seven goals in seven games thus far, while Gopinathan and Hafiz Kamal have seamlessly integrated into Selangor’s starting eleven, after arriving from Pahang. As much as they have defensive issues to deal with, Selangor are extremely formidable in front of their home fans, which makes them favourites for this particular fixture.


Photo Credit: Channel News Asia
Photo Credit: Channel News Asia

The Stags have had a mixed run thus far. Despite going big with the signing of Jermaine Pennant, Tampines have only won one out of their first three S.League games of the season – though they remain unbeaten in the league. More importantly though, V. Sundramoorthy’s men got their AFC Cup campaign off to an explosive start by beating Bangladeshi side Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi, two weeks ago.

As far as this tie is concerned, there’s a certain degree of familiarity for the Singaporean side – it won’t seem too much like a foreign fixture. The likes of Izwan Mahbud, Shakir Hamzah, Afiq Yunos, and even Christopher Van Huizen are extremely familiar with Selangor, having featured for LionsXII in the Malaysia Super League over the past few years. Irish forward Billy Mehmet is also no stranger to the league as he was part of Kedah’s MSL squad in 2014, before moving to Sarawak FA a year later. And of course, V. Sundramoorthy himself is well-versed on the Malaysian football scene, having played and coached there.

The biggest stumbling block for Tampines is undoubtedly Patrick Ronaldinho. They can take the game to Selangor and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them dominate the tempo of the match on Tuesday night. But Ronaldinho’s physical presence and sheer strength on and off the ball, means that it only takes one clinical pass from the likes of Hafiz Kamal and Nazmi Faiz to put the Liberian forward in a threatening position. The question that begs to be answered – Should Tampines mark Ronaldinho out of the game, or focus on cutting the supply chain that’s directed to the Liberian?


Photo Credit: Straits Times
Photo Credit: Straits Times

If there’s one thing you can expect with certainty, it’s the fact that UltraSel and their comrades will foster an incredible atmosphere on the night. And more often than not, the Red Giants have the tendency of turning on the style, under the influence of their boisterous home fans. But if Tampines’ deadly trio of Pennant, Billy Mehmet and Jordan Webb get their footballing juices flowing on the day, an upset is more than just possible.

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