League Cup: Azwan brings glory to Bruneians
Tam Cheong Yan
Photography by Roy Lim
Azwan Salleh shot to prominence in the StarHub League Cup final at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening when he singlehandedly ended Geylang United’s fine form in the tournament.
The 24-year-old turned in a first-half assist for Shahrazen Said and an incredible second-half free kick to earn DPMM FC a 2-0 victory on the night, making them the first team to win the competition twice since its inception in 2007.
Geylang put up a heartwarming display, ditching their usual defensive-minded game and showing plenty of willingness to run at a curiously shaky DPMM defence, with many among the crowd of 1,749 loudly cheering them on.
But having reached the final on the back of an amazing run that saw them topple the league’s top two sides, the Eagles ran out of goals for once and were made to settle for runners-up medals.
Kanan Vedhamuthu made one notable change to the Geylang team that overcame Tampines Rovers in the semifinals, fielding Korean Mun Seung Man in place of Prime League skipper Nurhazwan Norasikin in a signal of attacking intent.
Basiru Osman meanwhile took his place in the DPMM starting eleven as expected, after he had come back from a shock collapse in his team’s semifinals battle four days earlier.
Having managed to field an unchanged eleven from the team that had taken SAFFC down in the semifinals, the Bruneians were largely expected to dominate proceedings from the off.
They were thus handed a surprise when Geylang, having taken a conservative two-banks-of-four approach for much of the tournament, decided to go on the offensive in this game.
The early pressure certainly rattled the Wasps more than a few times by raids led by Stefan Milojevic and Jozef Kaplan, and even Tales dos Santos, who was influential for DPMM in the knockout stage, stuttered on several occasions with sliced clearances.
At the other end, Patrick da Silva looked more promising when he barged well into the Geylang penalty area on 14 minutes, but his pointblank shot was firmly parried by Ridhuan Barudin.
Ivan Jerkovic then fluffed a free kick from 25 yards out, a position from which the Croat would normally be a threat, before blowing another long-range shot from open play.
DPMM were otherwise kept on the back foot for most of the first half, though, and Sairol Sahari almost diverted a Michael King free kick into his own net on 23 minutes but for the sharp intervention of Wardun Yussof.
King was then denied a chance to latch on to a fine Kaplan play five minutes later when the offside came up against him, although television replays showed that the Englishman was in fact narrowly onside when he took off early in anticipation of the through pass.
To be fair, it was a tough call, and the way the Eagles were in such fine flow, most in the stands could be forgiven for thinking it would be a matter of time before they would go in front.
The Bruneians rode their luck when dos Santos was not punished for a heavy challenge on Shah Hirul in the penalty area, however, and they proceeded to take the lead against the run of play.
The move started from a long ball by Shahrulrizal Abdul Rahman that the Eagles defence did not clear well for once, allowing Azwan to pick up possession and push towards the line.
The winger’s tight cross was promptly glanced home by Shahrazen, who until then had done nothing of note in the match, turning Ridhuan’s face almost as red as his jersey.
Geylang might have been stunned, but they were by no means discouraged, and King, Milojevic and Kaplan all had decent opportunities to level before the break.
Mun tried to get in on the act too early in the second half, but a fall under pressure from Sairol inside the penalty area was read by referee Sukhbir Singh as a cheap attempt to earn a kick from the spot, and that led to a booking for the Korean instead.
That was hardly enough to discourage the Bedok-based side, however, and Milojevic in particular continued to put in a strong showing, beating Wardun but not the crossbar with a fine dipping left-footer with 52 minutes gone.
Kaplan then had a volley blocked by Shahrulrizal, before King’s stinging effort drew a good save from Wardun, whose stature improved steadily in the second half after a hesitant start.
Milojevic sent another fine shot narrowly over the bar with just over 15 minutes remaining, and Geylang did well enough to keep up their determination for as long as they did.
But they were undone when Azwan stepped up to take a free kick some 40 yards out near the touchline, sending it in off the far post as Ridhuan’s awkward positioning compromised his ability to save the ball.
Yet even at two goals down, Geylang showed zeal all the way to the final whistle, as King, Ang Zhi Wei and even late substitute Amy Recha Samion peppered efforts on Wardun’s goal.
The display the men in white and green put up certainly warmed the hearts of their supporters, and they even earned the respect of DPMM fans willing to put up their hands and admit their team had been outplayed.
The only thing the Eagles could not do was score, however – and that meant they had to accept the losers’ medals as Azwan and his teammates made off with the main prize.