Nay Pyi Taw 1
Their fate was in their own hands, but Tampines somehow contrived to blow it.
Needing only a draw to progress to the second stage of the AFC Cup, they instead lost 0-1 Myanmar's Nay Pyi Taw FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.
Despite declaring that it was risky for his side to play for a draw before the game, coach Salim Moin's Tampines Rovers came out doing just that.
From the opening whistle, the Stags crowded their midfield with a 3-5-2 formation and sat deep, with captain Fahrudin Mustafic remaining in front of his defence to try and keep things tight at the back.
However, that cautious approach backfired in the 78th minute. Argentinian midfielder Cesar Delgado, who played for local side Hougang United in 2011, rifled home a loose ball after the Tampines defence made a hash of a clearance from a cross.
"I told my players not to allow them to get crosses in but they were allowed to, and this is what happens," lamented Salim.
"We were too comfortable, and made several lapses in concentration.
"I'm very disappointed. Nay Pyi Taw had more urgency and desire than us."
The result moved the Myanmar side up to second in Group H, earning them qualification to the next round at the expense of the reigning S-League champions. Nay Pyi Taw will meet either Vietnamese side Hanoi T&T or Indonesia's Arema in the next round.
Their coach Myo Hlaing Win, however, believed his side were lucky to win, even though his side dominated proceedings with 13 goal attempts to Tampines' three.
"Against a team who have a lot of quality, especially their foreign players, we were lucky to get this result," he said.
"Compared to Tampines, we have no international players and we're in the competition for the first time."
In front of a 1,301-strong crowd that boasted a strong Myanmar fan base, the visitors wrested control from sluggish Tampines, whose sloppy passing gave Nay Pyi Taw much of the possession to initiate their attacks.
Against a Stags backline that has kept only two clean sheets in 13 games this season, it was only a matter of time that the S-League side would concede.
With the AFC Cup exit, it is back to the drawing board for Tampines, who have exited the competition in the group stages for the third consecutive year.
Said Salim: "Now, we have to focus on doing well in the S-League, and come back to play in the AFC Cup again next year."
This article was published on April 23 in The Straits Times.
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