Stipe Plazibat double sends Home United into AFC Cup zonal final
Croatian import Stipe Plazibat was the hero once again as he scored two late goals to help Home United edge 10-man Global-Cebu FC in the semifinals of the AFC Cup on Tuesday night.
The 3-2 second-leg win at Jalan Besar Stadium gave them a 5-4 victory on aggregate to advance to the Zonal final against either Johor Darul Ta'zim, of Malaysia, or Ceres-Negros, of Philippines.
It had looked as though Home United were heading out of the competition against 10-man Global until Plazibat's late heroics in front of a 1,370-strong crowd.
The 27-year-old stabbed home from close range on 89 minutes after Irfan Fandi had knocked on Izzdin Shafiq's deep cross. Then, he curled home a delightful 25-yard free kick three minutes into added time to send his side through in thrilling fashion.
Plazibat had scored a 95th-minute equaliser in the 2-2 draw in Manila two weeks ago.
Home had got off to the worst possible start by conceding inside the first six minutes.
Captain and goalkeeper Hassan Sunny brought down Darryl Roberts in the box. Former Swansea City midfielder Germaine Agustien stepped up to send the Singapore star the wrong way from the spot to put the away side 3-2 up on aggregate.
That goal stung the Protectors into action with teenage forward Amiruldin Asraf forcing Patrick Deyto into a flying save just a minute later.
Song Uiyoung was the next to have a try at goal, but fired over from the edge of the box after being teed up by Amiruldin.
Aidil Sharin's side then wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to score on 26 minutes, with Khairul Nizam blazing over from six yards out after being found by a Izzdin Shafiq free kick.
Home would finally make it count 10 minutes later. Song intelligently allowed Shamil Sharif's throw-in to run across his body before lashing home an unerring left-footed volley from 20 yards out.
The goal levelled it up 3-3 on aggregate, with Home holding the edge via the away goals rule.
The Protectors picked up where they left off after the break, with Amiruldin on the end of two excellent openings, but firing off-target on both occasions.
They would pay for those missed opportunities in the 49th minute. Shu Sasaki headed home the rebound from close range to put Global 4-3 up on aggregate after Hassan had parried Minegishi's fierce drive into his path.
Nizam could have restored parity for Home just a minute later, but somehow fired high and wide in the box after being teed up by Faris.
Aidil reacted by throwing on Croatian forward Marijan Suto to replace Amiruldin, as the Protectors went in search of the goal to level it up.
Home's chances of a comeback increased on 71 minutes when Global centre back Dennis Villanueva was shown a straight red card for a high challenge on Suto.
Centre-back Irfan was given the license to move upfront, and he eventually played a crucial part in setting up Plazibat a minute from time.
The goal would have sent the game into extra time. But Plazibat had other ideas as he curled home from the edge of the box with virtually the last kick of the game to settle the semifinal.
"The fighting spirit and the team bonding is superb... it's different form last season," Home United coach Aidil Sharin said. "Everyone's fighting and helping each other, you can see them progressing. Yes, we concede goals, but we score more goals than we concede.
"Definitely I was feeling confident of a comeback. We did some tactical changes by putting Suto upfront and Irfan [Fandi] on top because they were struggling with high balls. We prepared for this and did it in training, that's why we were confident. It means a lot to be in the final because it's the first time a Singapore club is up there and we have to be proud to do it for the country."
Home United: Hassan Sunny (GK, C), Shamil Sharif (Sufianto Salleh 90'), Irfan Fandi, Afiq Yunos, Juma'at Jantan, Song Uiyoung, Izzdin Shafiq, Amiruldin Asraf (Marijan Suto 56'), Faris Ramli, Khairul Nizam (Christopher van Huizen 90'), Stipe Plazibat
Global-Cebu: Patrick Deyto (GK, C), Jerry Barbaso, Dennis Villanueva, Wesley Santos, Mario Clarino, Shu Sasaki, Paul Mulders (Fritz Brigoli 88'), Matthew Hartmann, Hikaru Minegishi (Paolo Bugas 80'), Germaine Agustien (Misagh Bahadoran 44'), Darryl Roberts