RHB Singapore Cup: Kanbawza overpower lacklustre Rams
Photography by Ko Po Hui
Myanmar National League side Kanbawza FC set up an all-foreign RHB Singapore Cup quarterfinals clash with Filipino club Loyola Meralco Sparks after they defeated Woodlands Wellington 2-1 in a preliminary round match at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday evening.
Soe Min Oo put the Burmese ahead after only three minutes and Tercio Nunes doubled their lead from the spot shortly after the hour mark, before Woodlands pulled a goal back through a Moon Soon Ho penalty on 65 minutes.
Kanbawza’s victory in front of a Burmese-majority 1,560-strong turnout marked the second successive time that PN Sivaji had successfully steered a club from Myanmar into the last eight of the Cup, following his term with Okkthar United last year.
The Burmese fielded a virtually full-strength team, with six Myanmar internationals and three imports making the starting eleven.
Woodlands meanwhile made three changes to the eleven that succumbed 0-1 at home to Tanjong Pagar United in their last competitive game.
Guntur Djafril and Armanizam Dolah were omitted from the matchday squad, and K. Sathiaraj was relegated to the bench, with Danny Chew, Aloysius Yap and Farizal Basri given the nod.
But any plans of a Rams surprise was torn to shreds from the off, as Kanbawza dominated the first half and needed only three minutes to make their presence felt.
Soe received the ball in the middle of the final third, and he took on two green shirts before rifling home a grounder outside the box that gave Woodlands goalkeeper Ahmadulhaq Che Omar no chance.
The two-time Cup runners-up nearly levelled the score against the run of play two minutes later when Moon broke through on the left and placed a shot that went past both Kanbawza No.1 Kyaw Zin Htet and the right post.
It was all Woodlands could offer in the opening 45 minutes as they were outthought, outpaced and outfought by their more determined opponents, who were backed by some passionate support from their countrymen.
Kanbawza played a very energetic and fast-paced attacking game, with quick interchanging passes that left Woodlands in sixes and sevens, giving their opponents not a single moment to catch a breather in their own half.
Salim Moin’s charges were devoid of ideas and mainly relied on energetic runs from Moon and Goh Swee Swee on the few hopeful counters they could conjure.
Trinidadian defender Fabien Lewis in particular was caught napping by the high-pressing Burmese on several occasions, and only poor finishing spared him and his team from greater embarrassment.
Lewis and Kanbawza striker Charles Obi duelled for the loose ball on 20 minutes, with the latter edging ahead after a failed tackle to bring him down outside the box.
With Ahmadulhaq flapping whilst rushing out, the Nigerian attempted a lob that took one heavy bounce too many as it went over the empty net.
A weak headed clearance from Lewis inside his own area on the half-hour mark allowed livewire Soe to take advantage, but the Myanmar international had a poor final touch.
After ending the first half with their tails tucked behind their backs, Woodlands almost pulled off a quickfire equaliser at the restart as Kyaw had to be alert to turn away a long-range effort from Moon.
The Burmese responded at the other end immediately, with Ahmadulhaq saving a Soe effort outside the box that took a deflection off Rams skipper Daniel Hammond.
Woodlands were a different team from the one that could not even string more than two passes in the first half, as they pushed forward and improved their play in pursuit of an equaliser.
But a clumsy challenge from rightback Chew on Soe inside his own box on the hour undid their improvement, as referee Muhd Taqi pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Nunes to send Ahmadulhaq the wrong way and double Kanbawza’s advantage with a low drive into the bottom left corner.
Woodlands were given a lifeline five minutes later when they were awarded a penalty, after Kyaw had brought Moon down inside the six-yard area.
The former Super Reds striker picked himself up and reduced the deficit with an accurate conversion into the top right corner.
Soe, who was the most threatening player for Kanbawza in this game, came close to restoring his side’s two-goal lead when he edged past Chew in the box, only for second-half substitute Han Yiguang to rob him of the ball before he could do further damage.
With the minutes ticking away, Woodlands pushed Hammond up front in a fruitless search for a goal to force extra time, as they eventually came up short in the creative department.
It was thus yet another early exit for the northern outfit – their fourth in succession in this competition, in fact, since reaching the final in 2008.
Rams assistant coach Clement Teo did not mince his words as he questioned his players’ desire to play for the club.
“The players really have to ask themselves what they really want,” he sighed at the post-match press conference.
“We have worked with them on the areas where we didn’t do well previously during training, yet they switched off the moment they went onto the field in the first half.
“They were not going in for the tackles, not chasing after the players and not following the ball, but kept conceding possession.
“Only the players knew why they were doing this, as our new strategy didn’t work at all in the first half.”
Newly-appointed Kanbawza head coach Sivaji meanwhile expressed surprise at the relative ease his side totally controlled the opening 45 minutes.
“I am very surprised that we have so much luxury in space and play,” admitted the former national head coach.
“Woodlands sat back and allowed us to dominate (in the first 30 minutes). If there was pressure in midfield from the start, then we would have found ourselves under real threat.”
Nonetheless, he was delighted to steer his second Burmese team into the quarterfinals, but acknowledged improvements could be made in their game.
“I am very happy with the result and it’s always sweet to win here,” he chirped.
“The good turnout of the Burmese to support their compatriots encouraged me and the team, and I am pleased the substitutes who came on maintained our playing level.
“Soe in particular was a very bright spark for us with his excellent runs behind the defence, but the ball at times did not come his way where he could have been more effective.
“But there were moments where we lost concentration, started playing to the gallery and did not slow down to stop the rhythm and start frustrating Woodlands. It was a simple case of us being overconfident and one such case nearly cost us when we conceded a penalty.
“When Woodlands’ No.10 (Moon) came in from behind, our defender tried to play in his box instead of clearing the ball, which resulted in the confusion and the spot-kick.
“We were fortunate that Woodlands could not take advantage of the domination they had in the minutes after they pulled one back.”
Sivaji acknowledged Kanbawza would have to step up their game in the quarterfinals against upcoming Cup opponents Loyola.
“Loyola will not be an easy opponent, and they have good players in the Younghusbands and the Hartmanns,” he said.
“The mistakes we made tonight we can rectify in training, and hopefully when July comes we will be much better prepared.
“We are fortunate we have the domestic league and cup competitions to work on things during the interim, but we have to be careful not to overload the players in training and matches.”