League Cup: Wasps swat Warriors aside
Photography by Aundry Gan
DPMM FC marked a return to the final of the StarHub League Cup three years after they had won it at the first attempt, as they avenged a first-round loss to SAFFC by beating the same side 2-0 in their semifinals clash at Jalan Besar on Tuesday evening.
The Warriors had defeated the Wasps less than seven days ago by the same scoreline to secure top spot in their group, but DPMM would have the last laugh as Tales dos Santos scored ten minutes into the match, while substitute Adi Said netted ten minutes from the end to seal the win.
SAFFC endured much misery throughout the evening as they lacked the much-needed flair in attack, despite restoring Mislav Karoglan into their starting lineup.
Though they tried to rally with good control of possession towards the end, they were unable to breach the DPMM defence, and ended up with just ten men on the field when Ruzaini Zainal was shown the red card for kicking out at Subhi Abdilah.
The result also leaves them looking at another failed League Cup campaign, and they will have to wait another year to earn the one title which the most decorated club in Singapore have never won.
SAFFC started out with a full-strength squad that, apart from Karoglan, also featured Eddie Chang, who replaced the injured Zulfadli Zainal Abidin.
Shahril Jantan also took his place between the sticks ahead of Rezal Hassan, but otherwise it was very much a similar lineup to the one that had downed DPMM at Yishun.
Despite the quality in the squad, they did not take long to concede the first goal from a corner.
The towering dos Santos, always a threat at set-pieces, rose highest to head home Azwan Salleh’s precise corner to give the Bruneians the early lead.
Looking clearly the sharper side from the get-go, they continuously threatened Shahril’s goal even after going in front, and Patrick da Silva proved to be a thorn in the Warriors’ side as he had a couple of sights on goal.
The one-time Sydney FC forward had a shot blocked on 18 minutes, when he sent a powerful effort from 25 yards out that needed a save from Shahril.
Another well-placed attempt by him on 37 minutes, this time from 35 yards away, forced the SAFFC custodian to tip over the bar.
SAFFC could not really get their hold on the game, and only managed to garner a couple of half-chances throughout the half. Fazrul Nawaz shot wide from just outside the area 16 minutes in, while Tatsuro Inui curled a free kick over soon after.
The best chance for the Warriors to equalise came six minutes before the break, when Karoglan sent Aliff Shafaein down the left, and the 30-year-old delivered a pinpoint cross to Fazrul in the middle.
However, the national striker could only smash his header against the left upright, instead of finding the net.
Soon after, Inui forced a fantastic save from Wardun Yussof with a shot from inside the area, before putting the custodian to work again in the last minute of the first half as he sprinted into the area from the right, only to see his near-post effort saved.
SAFFC had a flurry of chances to end the first half, but they could not carry this over to the second 45 minutes.
Instead, the only drama in the early part of the second half was a mishap involving Basiru Osman, who fainted following a challenge for a high ball with Daniel Bennett.
It took some time for the 23-year-old to be stretched off and replaced by Helmi Zambin, but following that incident, DPMM had the better chances, with the replacement almost making an immediate impact with a shot gathered by Shahril.
SAFFC slowly eased their way into the match, though, playing much better football compared to what they had offered in the first half.
They created more chances with Ruzaini, who replaced Fazrul on 66 minutes, shooting over from a good position within minutes of his entry, while Karoglan’s effort was blocked following Inui’s free kick.
But just when it looked like the Warriors would get the breakthrough, they conceded at the other end.
With only ten minutes left in the game, Adi Said, who replaced da Silva for the last 15 minutes, latched on to fellow substitute Helmi’s pass as he beat the offside trap, leaving him with just Shahril to beat.
The young forward duly dispatch the chance, slotting home to double his side’s lead.
SAFFC continued to press for a goal despite the game seeming hopeless, and Inui had a couple of free kicks at dangerous positions.
However, the usually-lethal winger was unable to get the ball past the wall as the DPMM defence held firm.
Towards the end of the match, Ruzaini was shown a straight red card after kicking out at Subhi as he lost the ball on the right, and that virtually sealed the defeat for SAFFC as they crashed out of the tournament.
Head coach Richard Bok was keen to credit DPMM for showing a level of aggressiveness that surpassed his side.
“I thought DPMM came out aggressively and pressed us very well,” he said.
“They didn’t let us play, and we conceded from a set-piece early in the game. DPMM played the game right; we were not aggressive enough in defending the first corner of the match, but there was more effort in the second half.
“We had our chances but we couldn’t put the ball in the net; it is not easy to play them when there are seven or eight players always defending. They really soaked up the pressure, so credit to them and good luck for the final.
“My boys never gave up even though we were two goals down. They fought till the final whistle so credit to them for not giving up.”
Having exacted a measure of revenge for their earlier defeat in the group stage, DPMM coach Vjeran Simunic was a happy man.
“Today, we played a fantastic technical game,” said the Croat.
“We knew that if we didn’t make any mistakes, it’ll be easy. We could have won the last game 5-2, but we lost when we didn’t deserve to, so for us, this was a very big game.
“We played well today, everyone played excellently today because we won. Adi (Said) especially is a great player, and in two or three can be the best player in the S.League and go to Europe.
“It is not easy to beat SAFFC and now we look to the final. We beat Home United and we beat SAFFC, and it is good training for us to win the final.”