League Cup: Protectors suffer shootout sorrow
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Aundry Gan
Home United’s bid for silverware suffered a new blow as they bowed out of the StarHub League Cup 2012 tournament on penalties at the hands of Bruneian side DPMM FC at Bishan Stadium on Saturday evening.
Indra Sahdan Daud gave the Protectors the lead two minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute, and the resolute defence appeared to have done enough to stifle the Bruneians in a scrappy affair.
But Tales dos Santos, who did much to hold the defensive line for DPMM, levelled matters with a surprise strike at the other end with only a minute remaining in regulation time, and 30 minutes of goalless football followed to keep the score deadlocked at 1-1.
That prompted the penalty shootout, where Wardun Yussof saved two efforts from Kenji Arai and Indra before Shahrazen Said slotted home his team’s final effort to kill the Protectors’ hopes.
Home coach Lee Lim Saeng opted to keep Indra and Shotaro Ihata on the bench in order to give his team more strength in defence, although Qiu Li was given a starting berth on the left.
DPMM meanwhile made one change to the team that lost to SAFFC three days earlier, as defender Shahrulrizal Abdul Rahman was fielded to take advantage of his long throws.
Both teams showed an eagerness to go on the attack early on, but DPMM were often foiled by a Home backline that stayed compact, with fullbacks Rosman Sulaiman and Masrezwan Masturi putting on eye-catching displays.
On the other hand, the hosts were often let down by poor balls in the final third of the field, as illustrated by a wayward cross from Firdaus Idros after exchanging a smart one-two with Qiu.
Firdaus was not the only one struggling to impress, though, as Wasps striker Patrick da Silva, playing in the centre of a three-man attacking line, often found himself frustrated by some good marking by the Home defenders.
The sight of the game, played on a field that had the appearance of being stapled together in some sections, was less than pretty, yet the fans gathered at Bishan worked hard to brighten things up with their cheering.
That did little to bring life to the players, however, as they continued to scrap around, hardly looking like the top-drawer contenders they were touted to be.
Sairol Sahari and Subhi Abdilah showed little flair on the flanks for DPMM, Ivan Jerkovic struggled to hold the centre, while Qiu and Shi Jiayi found it hard to get any real rhythm going.
Perhaps that was a reflection of how defence was king in this game, as encapsulated by the performance of the towering dos Santos for the visitors.
So imposing was he that Frederic Mendy, usually one capable of causing trouble to many an opposition defence, ended up doing a better job with several defensive headers in his own box than attacking the DPMM goal.
In fact, it was worth noting that Home’s opener two minutes after the break bypassed the hulking Brazilian completely, after Mendy’s attempt at a cross was half-cleared by the Wasps defence.
Nor Azli Yusoff stunned everyone with a howitzer of a shot from 30 yards out that Wardun barely got his hands to, and Indra, who had come on for the ineffective Firdaus, raced in to slot home, just as he had done against Hougang United three days ago.
That goal opened things up, and in a matter of minutes Mendy and da Silva struck shots that crashed resoundingly into the advertising boards.
Both teams continued to place emphasis on defence, though, a point Home illustrated very well as Rosman and Masrezwan continued to throw themselves at every attack that came their way.
It was the same with dos Santos, although many Home fans were convinced he tripped Mendy shortly after the hour mark as both raced into the box with the ball at the Frenchman’s feet.
Referee W. Ravisanthiran ruled that the Brazilian won the ball first, however, and for all of Mendy’s disbelief as he sat looking at the play that was continuing without him, neither he nor his teammates lodged a protest.
Home’s quest for a second goal sputtered on, and Indra’s attempt to set Qiu up in a counterattack on 75 minutes saw the latter fumble with his second touch, allowing the Wasps defence to clear.
Mendy then failed in his attempt to slip a pass through to Ihata, who had just come on for Qiu with ten minutes to go, before going on to fluff what seemed a dead-on goal on 85 minutes by lobbing over inside the six-yard box with Wardun floored from an earlier shot.
Spurred on by those close shaves, DPMM pushed for a goal in the dying minutes, and they got it when dos Santos flicked on from an Azwan Salleh delivery with the clock reading 89 minutes, the ball barely eluding Lionel Lewis, who was otherwise rarely challenged.
Neither side could come up with a goal in the few minutes that followed, so extra time became a necessity, yet that too proved indecisive despite Indra and Wasps substitute Helmi Zambin having notable chances.
On to penalties the game went, and when Arai’s low effort to the right was saved by Wardun, Home knew Lewis had to foil Basiru Osman, who had achieved little in the match proper.
Lewis did not disappoint, but then Wardun saved Indra’s effort that followed, and Shahrazen, another passenger in the 120 minutes that preceded the shootout, sent Lewis the wrong way to bring Home’s League Cup campaign to an early end.
Lee satisfied with Home charges despite exit
Home United coach Lee Lim Saeng saluted his players for their ‘effort’ and ‘passion’ in their StarHub League Cup quarterfinals match with DPMM FC, even though his side crashed out to the Bruneian outfit on penalties.
Despite seeing another leg of the club’s silverware chase end in grief, the Korean appeared at peace with himself at the post-match press conference as he gave his players recognition for an industrious performance.
“I really appreciate the players’ effort, and we should not be disappointed because we showed passion,” he told sleague.com.
“Lionel (Lewis) showed how important he is in organising the team, he came to the fore today, and the back four are getting better. And we had many chances to score; whether we were unlucky or not, the fans can all see.
“If any player did not show his best, I would have reason not to be happy. But I think every single player did his best today, and that’s why I respect them all and thank them for their effort.”
Asked about Frederic Mendy’s late miss that proved pivotal as Home lost their lead shortly afterwards, Lee again showed no wish to be critical of the 23-year-old.
“Mendy’s still young, he still has plenty of potential,” he remarked.
“We cannot say that we lost because of his one miss. We all get better from experiences like this, and we should use this to build on our future.”
DPMM coach Vjeran Simunic was delighted to end his bogey run against the Protectors, adding that this result made up for some ‘unlucky’ previous encounters.
“We are all very happy, because we finally beat Home United,” said the Croat.
“Home United had played us four times and beaten us all four times before this, but the last two times were 1-0, 1-0. And we knew they were under pressure, they are down in the S.League, and they dropped out of the Singapore Cup.
“We are still not ready to play big teams like Tampines (Rovers), SAFFC and Home, and some will say we are lucky to win. But you must know that we were the better team in the first half, and in extra time we had excellent chances, very nice chances, so to win on penalties was fair.”