League Cup: Old hand Rezal seals Warriors win
Photography by Aundry Gan
SAFFC had goalkeeper Rezal Hassan to thank after the 37-year-old turned in a fine performance to help his team to a 2-0 win over Bruneian outfit DPMM FC in a StarHub League Cup match at Yishun Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The result ensured the Warriors topped Group A, clinching them home ground advantage in their quarterfinals tie with Hougang United three days later.
Fazrul Nawaz scored the opener on 29 minutes and turned provider in injury time to set Aliff Shafaein up for the pivotal second goal, after Shukor Zailan missed a penalty in between.
However, Rezal was without doubt the man of the match, making multiple stops, especially towards the end of the match, when DPMM were pushing hard for the equaliser.
As expected, the former Singapore custodian became the main subject of the post-mach interviews with both coaches.
“I think the experience showed,” commented his coach Richard Bok.
“He had good command of the area, and he made crucial saves. He is definitely the man of the match.
“We did well to hold DPMM off after we missed the penalty. We gave them too much space towards the end, but Rezal made the saves.”
Rezal also earned grudging praise from Vjeran Simunic, who knew a couple of things about the craft, having served as a custodian in his playing days.
“The best player on the field was the goalkeeper!” declared the DPMM coach.
“We had ten 100 percent chances to score, but the team could not score. They had two half chances, and they managed to score.
“In fact, everything worked for us except for the scoring. I am upset with the result, but I’m not upset with the way my team played.
“We created excellent chances, but again the problem was we could not score.”
One of those ‘excellent’ chances came as early as the third minute, when Basiru Osman latched on to a through pass by former Warriors man Ivan Jerkovic, setting himself up for a one-on-one opportunity with Rezal.
The Ghanaian went for the audacious chip, however, when a direct shot would have been the safer option, and to his agony, it went narrowly wide.
That chance set the tone for the match as an entertaining game of attacking football was on show for the fans who turned up at Yishun.
Both sides had their fair share of possession, but it was SAFFC who were able to make the most of theirs, with Marin Jonjic proving particularly threatening for the DPMM right wing.
Aliff sent a shot over the bar 20 minutes into the match, while Fazrul was unable to hit the ball cleanly, resulting in an easy catch for Wardun Yussof, when through on goal eight minutes later.
The Singapore international was not to be denied just before the half-hour mark, however, when Ruzaini Zainal sent a lovely ball into the area from the left, leaving him to head home under no pressure and give the Warriors the lead.
Shukor almost made it 2-0 with a signature 35-yard effort, but the 2009 finalists were unable to score again before the half was over.
In fact, they were put under more pressure from the Wasps, who were to rue their consistent inability to put a finishing touch to their attacking work.
Just like in the first half, the Wasps had a chance to put the ball into the net early in the second period when Daniel Bennett scuffed a routine clearance, but Osman could not capitalise with his effort.
Jerkovic had another chance soon after, but Rezal was alert to save that effort.
The Warriors had a great opportunity to put the game to bed after surviving those two scares when Wardun carelessly brought Aliff down in the penalty area.
Referee Abdul Malik Bashir pointed to the spot immediately, but Wardun made amends when he kept his side in the game with a save from Shukor’s penalty attempt.
That seemed to rejuvenate the Bruneian side as they began to control the match. Striker Adi Said, who had come on for sweeper Sallehuddin Damit on 62 minutes, provided the Wasps with some sorely-missed bite.
The 21-year-old had a shot saved by Rezal just four minutes after entering the fray, and towards the end of the match, he also had a couple of efforts on target.
Despite dominating possession, however, DPMM were unable to find the breakthrough they so desperately craved. Patrick da Silva, Adi and Osman all had chances to get at least one goal, but they were all stopped by the excellent Rezal.
Aliff then sealed victory with a coup de grace on the counterattack.
Having poured much of their resources forward, the Wasps had few men left helping to guard Wardun’s goal, and Fazrul slipped to ball to Aliff for an easy finish.
It was a fine way to close out the group stage for Bok and his charges, although the SAFFC coach found the second half less satisfying, showing little generosity even on the eve of his birthday.
“We had a good first half and played nice flowing football,” said the man who would turn 43 hours after the match.
“We had a chance to kill it off, but we didn’t, and we gave them a chance to come back.
“They had a couple of chances to take a point, but we held out well. It was a good performance against a side that’s so tough to beat.”
As winners of Group A, SAFFC will now face Hougang, who lost to Home United 0-2 in a concurrent fixture at Hougang Stadium.
DPMM will meanwhile have their hands full trying to deal with the Protectors in the other quarterfinals clash on Saturday.