League Cup: New format features two trophies
Muhd Khalis Rifhan
A new sponsor, a new tournament format – but the excitement does not stop there for the StarHub League Cup 2012.
For the first time since the competition’s launch in 2007, there will be not one but two trophies up for grabs, with the introduction of an auxiliary ‘Plate competition’ for teams that fail to negotiate the first hurdle.
These changes were unveiled at the draw for this year’s competition, which was held at the VIP Lounge at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday evening.
In a refreshing touch intended to reach out to followers of the local game, fans representing each of the participant clubs were also invited to conduct the draw, a move believed to be the first of its kind in Singapore football history.
That meant twelve lucky fans had a hand in deciding the fates of the teams they supported. It would have been thirteen, but Malaysia’s Harimau Muda had earlier served notice that they were invited for another tournament in Austria scheduled for the same Muslim fasting month period.
With a composite number of teams available, it became possible to place them in four groups of three, clearing the way for a relatively straightforward competition format.
Teams in each of the four groups will play each other once in the first stage of the competition, and the top two in each group will advance into the League Cup quarterfinals, which will operate in a straight knockout format.
The four teams finishing bottom in their respective groups, meanwhile, will enter the Plate competition, consisting of the semifinals and a final, scheduled to be held just before the League Cup final itself on 11 August.
The StarHub League Cup champions will walk away with a prize purse of S$30,000, an increase of $10,000 from the 2011 edition, while the runners-up will receive S$15,000 and the Plate winners get S$5,000.
There is also a chance for individual honours in the form of a Most Valuable Player award, which like the Plate trophy is a new concept in the League Cup’s short history.
Whether Albirex Niigata (Singapore) will garner any of those honours remains to be seen, as the current league leaders have been drawn into an intriguing Group B, where they will face Balestier Khalsa and Geylang United.
“On paper it might be an easy group for us, but if you look at previous league results, we lost to Balestier and had a goalless draw against Geylang at Bedok Stadium,” observed White Swans team manager Koh Mui Tee, who was in attendance at the draw.
“We are looking forward to defending the League Cup and becoming the first club to do so in the competition’s history.”
Group A meanwhile sees a rematch of the 2009 final as Bruneian side DPMM FC and SAFFC are set to meet, with former Singapore Cup winners Tanjong Pagar United rounding off the pool.
The Warriors have collected every other major trophy since the inception of the S.League in 1996, and general manager Chong Wei Chiang declared that his club will be looking to complete the set.
Chong was particularly delighted to cross swords once again with DPMM, who had beaten SAFFC on penalties to lift the trophy three years ago.
“We were the first team to inflict a defeat to DPMM on their ground this season,” he highlighted.
“Looking at the situation, all is good for us, and we look forward to progress to the knockout stages of this competition.”
2011 finalists Hougang United face a tricky test of their credentials this time around, as they have been pooled into Group C alongside Home United and the Courts Young Lions.
Staunch Cheetahs supporter Mervin Tan was undaunted by the draw, however, as he expressed his wish to see the team come out on top this time.
“Last year we were runners-up, but in the lead up to the Final, we beat teams like SAFFC and Home United,” he recounted.
“We eventually lost to Albirex in a penalty shootout. So I hope that we are able to go one better this year!”
Group D has the unique honour of featuring two former winners of this tournament, as 2007 champions Woodlands Wellington and 2008 champions Gombak United are joined by S.League title holders Tampines Rovers, who remarkably have never reached the final of this competition.
It was a draw that excited 23-year-old Arief Aditya, a fan of the Stags, although he clearly felt a greater buzz from being able to participate in the draw itself.
“It’s a good initiative by FAS to engage the fans in the League Cup draw,” said Arief, who is currently studying.
“This move solidifies the bond between FAS and the S.League on one side, and the fans on the other.
“I truly applaud such a move, as at the end of the day, the S.League is nothing without the constant support of the fans. This also makes us feel appreciated and helps build stronger relations between us and the clubs we support.”
Polytechnic student Daniel Lau, 19, agreed that getting the fans involved was a positive touch for the event.
“This certainly creates more excitement, as we are able to see fans from all the different clubs coming together for the draw,” said the Home supporter.
“This is definitely one way to reach out to the fans. As you can see, the room is very colourful today, with fans wearing their respective club outfits!”
Seeing the fans enjoying themselves brought a big smile to S.League CEO Lim Chin.
“We would like to give loyal fans of the S.League a chance to get more involved,” said Lim.
“We fully support the efforts of the S.League team, and are confident that football fans will be treated to a bigger and better tournament this year,” added StarHub’s Chief Operating Officer Tan Tong Hai.
The StarHub League Cup 2012 will kick off on 26 July, with SAFFC taking on Tanjong Pagar in a Group A at Choa Chu Kang and Home hosting the Young Lions at Bishan in Group C.
Albirex meet Balestier the following day in Group B, while Woodlands lock horns with Tampines in Group D in a concurrent fixture.
StarHub have announced that there will be a live telecast of the League Cup final on their SuperSports Arena channel, which is available to all StarHub TV customers as a complimentary service.