Formed back in 1945, Tampines Rovers Football Club are one of the most successful clubs in Singapore football history. They competed in the Singapore Amateur Football Association League until 1974 when they were given a slot in the second division of the newly-formed National Football League. They immediately gained promotion to the first division in 1975. Tampines won the league title thrice before being relegated back to the second division in 1988. But they soon won back promotion and secured the top flight title again in 1994. Then in 1996 when the S-League was launched, Tampines were among the eight clubs in the inaugural season. Their highest position for the first six S-League campaigns was sixth but since 2002 they have never finished outside the top four and won the title five times including last season when they completed a hattrick of league crowns.
Before their hattrick between 2011 and 2013, Tampines Rovers won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005 and were adjudged the best club of the S-League’s first decade. With five league titles, they are the second-most successful S-League side behind Singapore Armed Forces, now called Warriors. They also won the league and cup double in 2004 and even secured a continental honour in the form of the ASEAN Club Championship in 2005. This will be their seventh appearance in the AFC Cup but they have never reached beyond the quarter-final stage. Nicknamed as ‘The Stags’, Tampines reached the last eight in their first three appearances between 2005 and 2007 and got knocked out in the round of 16 in 2011. However Tampines have been eliminated from the group stage in their last two appearances in 2012 and 2013. On both occasions they finished bottom of their group.
The club has built up a winning mentality in recent years because despite having five different coach since the start of 2011, Tampines notched up three straight titles. Former Singapore international Salim Moin was appointed their new head coach in November 2013 and he will be under pressure to secure a fourth straight league crown with only Warriors having achieved that in the S-League previously. The key local additions have been forward Noh Alam Shah, defender Shariff Samat and goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma’at. All three have had previous spells at the club while retired Singapore internationals Aleksandar Duric, who is incredibly 43 now, and Fahrudin Mustafic have also been retained. Japanese centre-back Kunihiro Yamashita is still with the club while the three new foreigners are Paraguayan playmaker Luis Closa, Serbian striker Miljan Mrdakovic and Japanese defender Norihiro Kawakami.
Tampines have made a perfect start to their S-League title defence, winning all three of their fixtures but by contrast, they have lost each of their three continental matches. Like Pune FC, Tampines competed in the AFC Champions League qualifying playoff and unlike the Indian club they also had home advantage. But the Singapore champions were beaten 2-1 after extra time by Hong Kong’s South China. As a result they entered the AFC Cup group stage but suffered heavy defeats in their opening two matches. Following a 5-0 hammering at home by Hong Kong’s Kitchee, Tampines lost 3-1 away at Myanmar’s Nyi Pyi Taw FC on matchday two. Thus they need to do the double over Pune to stand any chance of reaching the knockouts and they don’t have happy memories of facing Indian opposition as last season they were beaten both home and away by East Bengal. In 2007 though, they held Mohun Bagan goalless in Kolkata and won 2-0 in the home fixture.
The Japanese is in his second season with Tampines and has become an indispensable figure for the Singapore champions. Tampines have defended poorly in their first two games thus Yamashita needs to play a key role in their improvement.
Despite being 32 now, the Serbian-born former Singapore international remains a key figure for Tampines, starting in all five games so far. Mustafic will have to give a commanding display from the middle of the park if Tampines want to return to winning ways.
The Serbian forward has made a superb start in Singapore football with four goals in three S-League appearances but is yet to score in the AFC Cup. Miljan would look to be at his best and find the back of the net against Pune.Published 17 Mar 2014, 15:53 IST