It was a topsy-turvy game of thrust and counter-thrust, of attacking intent and defensive frailties shown by both teams.
And when the dust finally settled in the RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final first-leg clash between Albirex Niigata and DPMM FC at the Jurong East Stadium last night, the Bruneians came out on top, although their players were sprawled on the pitch, spent.
Exploding off the blocks, DPMM raced to a 3-0 lead within 17 minutes, then inexplicably allowed the hosts to claw their way back to level terms midway through the second half, before the excellent Roy O'Donovan scored in injury time to break Japanese hearts.
"We came right out of the blocks, with intensity, and we were superb in the first 25 minutes, but we have to address the energy levels in the last third of the game," said DPMM coach Steve Kean.
"A few times Albirex could've got a goal if not for the woodwork or a save and, credit to them, they came back strongly, but we managed to hang on for the win."
DPMM cut through the Albirex defence at will in the opening minutes of the first half, with O'Donovan devastating in attack. Indeed, DPMM's foreign attacking trio of Roberto Alviz (5th minute), O'Donovan (7th minute) and Rodrigo Tosi (17th minute) all got their names on the score sheet.
They looked like they were going to run rampant, but fatigue and poor concentration suddenly took hold among the players.
Kazuya Okazaki scored in the 34th minute to reduced the deficit in the first half and Albirex looked a completely different side in the second period. Keisuke Ota (56th minute) and Kazuki Sakamoto (63rd minute) scored to swing momentum completely in the favour of Albirex.
After Sakamoto's goal, they fashioned one good opportunity after another, but the Japanese just could not put the finishing touches on what would have been an amazing comeback win.
O'Donovan struck again in the first of four minutes of injury time, to the relief of former Blackburn Rovers manager.
"This is my first time dealing with a team who are fasting and (the effects) are not just physical, it's mental as well," said Kean, of the match played on the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
"Some of the players were dizzy at the end of the game and some of them just 'died' out on the pitch. We have to address these energy levels."
While Kean is taking nothing for granted, his Albirex counterpart was not pleased at all, despite his team's fight back.
"We allowed them to attack from the first minute, our defence did not push up and gave them too much space," said Albirex coach, Tatsuyuki Okuyama.
"I'm not happy with the result and, in the next match, we need to improve our defence - and score the from the chances that we have in front of goal."
The second leg will be played this Friday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
This article was first published on June 30, 2014.
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