Football: It's all good at Tampines

TEAM SPIRIT: Tampines are in confident mood after beating JDT II 1-0 last Tuesday, but Jermaine Pennant (far left) will not face Mohun Bagan in the ACL as he has not been registered yet.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Their acquisition of former Liverpool and Arsenal winger Jermaine Pennant, along with a host of LionsXII players, has breathed new life into a flailing local football scene.

And Tampines Rovers are now poised to step into the continental spotlight, as they leave for India this evening, ahead of Wednesday's clash with Mohun Bagan in the first qualifying round of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League (ACL).

Coach V Sundramoorthy believes the positive vibes surrounding the club could spur the team to a good result in Calcutta, despite the fact that they have played only two warm-up matches ahead of a qualifier that comes during the pre-season for the Feb 13 kick-off of the 2016 S.League season.

While Pennant has yet to be registered and will not feature in Wednesday's match, Sundram is confident his charges can be competitive against the 2015 Indian champions, who are three games into the 2016 I-League season and are top of the nine-team standings.

"That game against Johor Darul Ta'zim II was only the second game we've played and we can definitely do better. This team are getting there, and we are improving," said Sundram, referring to the Stags' 1-0 win over the Malaysian second-tier side last Tuesday.

They beat Hougang United 2-0 in an earlier match.

DEMANDS

"But this is definitely not a new team, most of them are from my (LionsXII) team in 2013 and they know my demands, and they know how to get it done out on the pitch," added the former Singapore international.

Sundram led the LionsXII class of 2013 to the Malaysian Super League title, and has lured 11 players from that team to Tampines.

"We have a good core here already, a young team. Most of them national players, and it's really just a matter of getting more time on the training ground," said the 50-year-old.

"Mohun Bagan have the home advantage, they're used to the weather and the pitch, and that will obviously help them.

"But we are looking to push ourselves, to compete, try to get a result, and maybe go out and get a good run in the Champions League."

Trinidad and Tobago forward Cornell Glen spearheads Mohun's attack, and, with four goals in three league games, he could well be a serious threat.

Even if they can overcome the Indian champions, Sundram is aware of the tough task ahead if he is to lead Tampines into the ACL group stages.

"If we do win, we will still face Chinese side Shandong Luneng Taishan and then (Australia's) Adelaide United (to earn entry to the ACL group stages). Realistically speaking, it's going to be tough, especially since all those games will be played away," he said.

"Jermaine hasn't been registered. He won't play in this game and he won't be travelling either.

"But we will register him and, if we do get past (Mohun Bagan), he could feature in the game against the Chinese side."

Tampines chairman Krishna Ramachandra has already said he will not put demands on his expensively assembled side to perform, but Sundram is nonetheless looking for a win.

"Of course there's pressure, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't. But it can be good pressure," said Sundram.

"Since my days at Jurong, this is the most attention from the media and fans that I've seen in the S.League. This is something really positive.

"The players, and even the team behind the team, are feeling good.

"We've already got the attention of fans and the media, and that is the first step to success."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 25, 2016.
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