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 By John Duerden

Fazrul Nawaz steps up for Tampines against Selangor in the AFC Cup

Tampines Rovers went to Malaysia on Tuesday night in the AFC Cup and defeated Selangor 1-0. The only goal of the game came from Fazrul Nawaz after 26 minutes. That puts the Singapore side on top of Group E with six points from two games while the Malaysians slip into third with a single point.

It wasn't quite the cracking Malaysia-Singapore derby that we were all hoping and waiting for, but we did learn three things:

1. No Pennant or Mehmet but there's Fazrul

If there were any fans who wandered down to Selayang in the hope of seeing former Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant for 90 minutes, they were out of luck.

The English attacker started on the bench as did Irish striker Billy Mehmet and stayed there until the final whistle.

Tampines Rovers celebrate Fazrul's goal
Fazrul Nawaz scored the only goal of the game to help Tampines Rovers to a 1-0 win over Selangor.

In all, the Mighty Stags made six changes from the side that was held to a 1-1 draw by Home United at the weekend. The team sheet seemed to make for happy reading for the Red Giants but then there was Fazrul Nawaz, the highest scoring Singaporean in the 2015 S.League.

The former Warriors man has been battling for opportunities with his new team and he demonstrated his goalscoring instincts after 26 minutes, pouncing on a loose ball in the area. It shows the strength of the Stags that they can have such a player as back-up.

It was a risk by the coach V. Sundramoorthy that handsomely paid off. Tampines have plenty of games coming in a short space of time and the risky move of resting the two star attackers away from home now looks like astute management. And while Selangor have some injuries, it was noticeable how strong the Singapore bench looked in comparison to that of the hosts.

Noticeable and a little worrying. It was just one game but even an under-strength Tampines seemed to have an extra gear ready to use if Selangor stepped things up. It wasn't necessary.

Selangor FA
Selangor failed to break down a stubborn Tampines defence at the Selayang Stadium on Tuesday night.

2. Selangor need to step it up

There are mitigating circumstances, given the team's injuries. But it was worrying a side from Singapore comes to the home of the Malaysia Super League leaders and can afford to rest their star players and still run out deserved winners.

It was not simply the fact that the Red Giants lost, but it was that they just seemed to be stuck in first gear for almost all of the match. There was little sense that this was an important game and apart from a very brief period at the start of the second half, there was little intensity, urgency or energy. It was as if there had been a little sleeping powder slipped into the pre-match sambal sauce.

It may well be true that the AFC Cup is not the team's priority this season. But it's still early days and the club owe it to fans and country to try and give everything they have to get as far as they can. It is t0ugh to compete at home and abroad but this is what the best teams do.

More than that, after being eliminated from the FA Cup just four days previously, fans would surely have expected a fearsome response. This time last week, there were four trophies available to Selangor. Now there are three with a loss in the AFC Cup meaning that another one is in danger.

But there is still hope. The way the group is scheduled means that the next two games are against Bangladeshi opposition in the form of Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi. If Selangor can take six points from the Dhaka team -- who should not be underestimated -- then the Malaysians would likely find themselves in the top two with two games remaining. There can be no more mistakes, however.

Selangor vs. Tampines Rovers
Selangor had to play against Tampines at Selayang instead of Shah Alam which was under renovation.

3. There was not much of a derby atmosphere

Perhaps it was due to the fact that the game was played at Selayang Stadium and not Selangor's usual Shah Alam Stadium home, which is under renovation. But the atmosphere did not seem to crackle when these two strong teams from rival leagues took to the pitch. Like the performance from the hosts, there was a lack of intensity produced from the six thousand fans present.

Perhaps the presence of Singapore's LionsXII in the previous four seasons has robbed Singapore-Malaysia encounters of some of the needle and intensity that they may otherwise have had. Going forward, the relative rarity of these clashes should bring the derby feeling back.

This would likely have helped Selangor. Having a partisan and passionate crowd behind them could have made the difference and woken the Red Giants from their torpor. Instead, it was one of those nights when the team have to lift the fans and they were just not able to do so.

Asian expert John Duerden is the author of Lions and Tigers: Story of Football in Singapore and Malaysia.Twitter: @JohnnyDuerden.


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