Venue: Jalan Besar Stadium, Singapore
Kickoff: Wednesday, March 19 2014, 17:00 IST
Desperate for a win
Tampines Rovers completed a hattrick of S-League titles last season but by contrast their performances in the AFC Cup have been dismal. They have been knocked out from the group stage in the last two editions, finishing bottom of their group on both occasions. The Stags are now on a ten-match winless streak in the AFC Cup going back to the 2012 edition after losing their first two fixtures this season. They got thumped 5-0 at home by Hong Kong’s Kitchee before losing 3-1 away at Myanmar’s Nay Pyi Taw FC on matchday two. Thus the Singapore champions desperately need maximum points in this fixture to avoid another exit from the competition.
Despite their struggles in the AFC Cup this term, Tampines have made a perfect start to their S-League title defence as they have won each of their three fixtures with the latest one being a 3-0 home victory over Geylang International on Sunday. Because of their dominance in Singapore football, last season Tampines came into their fixture against East Bengal as favourites but were eventually beaten both home and away by the Kolkata club. With Warriors FC also not progressing to the round of 16 last year and Home United also struggling this time, some serious questions have been raised about the quality of the S-League. Their champions are under pressure to provide a positive answer in this matchday three encounter.
Pune’s young squad on the other hand have made a decent start to their first-ever AFC Cup campaign with two draws in as many games. Coach Mike Snoei will surely have regrets about their 2-2 draw at home against Nay Pyi Taw but the remarkable comeback against Kitchee last week is already one of the best results in Pune’s short history so far. In the words of Snoei, Pune produced a ‘perfect second-half’ display to fight back from two goals down and earn a point against highly-fancied Kitchee. That game was also Pune’s first-ever fixture outside India and the performance will surely give them confidence for the rest of the group stage.
Back in 2005 when Tampines made their debut in the AFC Cup and reached the quarters, Pune FC wasn’t even formed. So in terms of history and continental experience, this clash is a complete mismatch but Pune will believe they can at least get something from this game if they are at their very best. Snoei has targeted all three points, a result which would increase their chances of reaching the round of 16. But even a draw away from home won’t be the worst result for the Red Lizards. The I-League outfit have been doing a lot of travelling but unlike Tampines were not in action at the weekend. Pune will be looking to make the most of that freshness and give another reminder of I-League’s overall improvement.
Tampines Rovers: WLWLW
Tampines are winless in seven AFC Cup home fixtures since May 2011 with one of those games ending in a 4-2 defeat against East Bengal last year. Their only win in four previous meetings with Indian clubs was the 2-0 home victory over Mohun Bagan in the 2007 group stage.
Pune FC: WDDDD
The 2-2 with Kitchee last week was Pune’s fourth straight draw in all competitions and eighth in the last 16 games with only two of them ending in wins. They have also managed just three wins in 12 matches outside Pune this season.
Tampines coach Salim Moin has a near full-strength squad to choose from with all four foreigners available. 43-year-old Aleksandar Duric and Serbian striker Miljan Mrdakovic are both expected to start upfront with Paraguayan Luis Closa operating as the playmaker. This will be their third game in a week but Moin can’t afford too many changes in what is a must-win encounter.
Possible XI: Hyrulnizam Juma’at; Abdil Qaiyyim, Norihiro Kawakami, Kunihiro Yamashita, Shaiful Esah; Jamil Ali, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shahdan Sulaiman, Luis Closa; Aleksandar Duric, Miljan Mrdakovic
Pune coach Mike Snoei will be tempted to field the same eleven that started in the second half against Kitchee last week and produced a remarkable comeback. That would mean another advanced role on the left flank for India international Gurjinder Kumar while Australian Mirjan Pavlovic could get his first AFC Cup start. Mumtaz Akhtar also could be included in the eleven as Dhanpal Ganesh is suspended.
Tampines Rovers – Miljan Mrdakovic
The Serbian has made an explosive start to his S-League career, scoring in each of the first three fixtures. Mrdakovic also got on the scoresheet in AFC Champions League playoff against South China and now would be looking to have a big impact against Pune.
Pune FC – Mirjan Pavlovic
The Australian was surprisingly only named on the bench against Kitchee but scored after coming on in the second half and played a big part in the comeback. Pavlovic would be hoping to start in this game and be at his very best.Published 18 Mar 2014, 22:16 IST