Tampines Rovers tune up for ACL playoff with win vs. JDT II
Tampines Rovers geared up for their upcoming AFC Champions League (ACL) qualifier away to Bali United with a 2-1 friendly win against Malaysia Premier League side Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) II at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday night.
Goals from Japanese winger Ryutaro Megumi and forward Fazrul Nawaz in each half did the trick for last season's S.League runners-up. However, they conceded late, with JDT II captain Nicolas Fernandez scoring straight from a corner.
It was a good runout for the new-look Tampines side, with German coach Jurgen Raab throwing five of their new signings into the starting eleven ahead of their Jan. 16 trip to Bali.
If they fail to qualify for the ACL, they are likely to be pitted against JDT's top side in Group H of the 2018 AFC Cup.
Against JDT II, Syazwan Buhari made an early save, but was largely untroubled in goal. Afiq Yunos barely put a foot wrong, alongside Mustafic Fahrudin and Daniel Bennett in a three-man defence.
Amirul Adli also put in a good shift in the middle of the park alongside the returning Yasir Hanapi.
The standout performer was ex-Warriors star Jordan Webb, who looked sharp and electric as ever on the wing, despite starting preseason training just a handful of days ago.
The Canadian attacker, who turns 30 in March, played a vital role in their first goal by skinning his marker on the left before looping an inch-perfect cross for Megumi to head home at the far post.
Another new signing Safirul Sulaiman came on in the second half and had a part in their second goal. He delivered a well-flighted free kick into the box which Bennett flicked on for Fazrul to nick home.
The Stags came under late pressure, with visitors looking for the equaliser in the dying moments, but they managed to hold out for the win.
"Everyone, including me, has been working really hard in preseason and I felt we did well today," Adli told ESPN FC.
"We have to be positive and say we did good, but at the same time we cannot be complacent. We have to work harder than ever, especially for myself, who came here after four years with the Young Lions.
"We're about to play the highest level of football in the ACL qualifiers so we have to make sure we are mentally and physically prepared for the challenge."
Meanwhile, Hafiz Sujad lasted 71 minutes on his JDT II debut at left back, despite just recovering from sickness. He told ESPN FC that he is looking forward to a smooth season under Mexican coach Benjamin Mora.
"It's a bit weird to make my club debut against my former team," acknowledged the 27-year-old. "I heard coach Jurgen shouting at the sides which could be confusing at times.
"I should be starting mostly at left-back because they lack players in this position and I hope I can do well for the team.
"We just started preseason and we've been doing a lot of gym work. The coach has told us that it's important to gel together and have a good team shape. For myself, I just need more time to adjust myself and fit in."
Another S.League side Hougang United also had a friendly on Saturday, edging National Football League (NFL) outfit Singapore Cricket Club 1-0 at Padang through a lone goal from rising starlet Justin Hui.
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT