League Cup: Eagles pledge no sitting back
Photography by Ko Po Hui
It will be a battle between feathered foes as the Eagles of Geylang United take on the White Swans of Albirex Niigata (Singapore) in the final Group B match of the StarHub League Cup 2012 at Bedok Stadium on Thursday evening.
Both teams have already qualified for the quarterfinals, having beaten Balestier Khalsa in their respective previous games. Table position, instead, will be at stake in this clash, with the winners of the match avoiding a likely tough trip to Clementi Stadium, home of Tampines Rovers.
The Eagles are the surprise package in the tournament, as their lowly position in the league certainly gives no indication of their current status as quarterfinals contenders.
However, such is the nature of a cup competition, with one good result enough to secure passage into the next round.
The result that they wanted came when they proved to be the Tigers’ bogey team, defeating the Toa Payoh-based side 3-1 in front of their fans.
It was not the only time the Eagles have run out winners against Darren Stewart’s men this year, having beaten them earlier in March by the same scoreline.
Rhema Obed, Michael King and Jozef Kaplan did the damage on that occasion, and while Obed has since moved on, King and Kaplan were once again on target on Monday as they tore Balestier apart to secure qualification for their side.
Caretaker coach Kanan Vedhamuthu described their progress into the last eight as the “highlight of the year” and admitted that he was only expecting a draw from his boys on that occasion.
“We had a game plan and we executed it well,” recalled the former national athlete, who concurrently serves as the club’s Prime League coach.
“They rose to the occasion, and it was the teamwork and hard work on the pitch that led to the result. I can’t single out a player for praise; everyone contributed to the win.
“We are getting better, as there were a number of matches where we should have gotten a better result than the one we got. Our performances are good, but we couldn’t get the result.
“I saw Balestier’s match against Albirex and I knew that we could at least get something from the match. I told the boys we could easily get a draw, but to get a win – that was a bonus!”
Geylang have not had much fortune this season, having been on the wrong end of some big scorelines that now leave them lying at the bottom of the S.League table.
With this in mind, to make it into the quarterfinals will certainly give the Geylang players a huge confidence boost for the rest of the season.
They can raise that confidence further by earning a good result against a tough Albirex side.
It is not all that impossible, for Geylang have experience in keeping the Japanese at bay.
Earlier in the season, the Eagles held the White Swans to the goalless draw at Bedok, putting up a superb defensive showing.
They will be looking for the same kind of form so as to serve up a repeat.
A draw will be good enough for the home side, as they have scored more goals than Albirex, but Kanan promised that his team will not be playing for a solitary point.
“It will not be easy to contain them,” he admitted.
“They are good on the ball and their movement off the ball is also superb. It will be a tough game, and we’ll really have to work as a team to beat them.
“We have the slight advantage as a draw is good enough for us, but of course, this does not mean that we will play too defensively. We want to attack and score goals too.”
For Albirex head coach Koichi Sugiyama, the performance rather than finishing top of the group is his focus.
“We’ve been playing good football recently, so we do not want to stop the momentum,” said the former J-League stalwart.
“The table is not important. I want to think more about playing good football than finishing first in the group.
“There were some good points and mistakes against Balestier. I want to increase the good points and reduce the bad ones.
“We have to be on our guard against Geylang if we want to win.”
As the defending champions in this competition and the current leaders in the S.League title race, the pressure is definitely on them to impress against a team they are expected to beat.
Having an easier match in the next round will certainly help Albirex in their quest to defend their title, though this was a point the polite Sugiyama would never admit.
With a draw insufficient to clinch that easier passage into the semifinals, Albirex are almost certain to attack from the kickoff, imposing their style of possession football that has done so well against many defences in the league.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are able to keep the attacking force of the White Swans at bay like they did before, or crack under the pressure and slip into second place in the group at the end of the evening.