Asian Football

Our SPL Team of The Week #3 (Feat. SG Football Podcast.)

The weather may not have been the best this weekend, with the downpour delaying certain fixtures. But the goals also rained this Singapore Premier League Game Week, with a total of 19 goals spread across the four matches – also worth pointing out that it’s great to have all teams finally feature this weekend. For this edition of Team of the Week, we are joined by Jerome from SG Football Podcast. Jerome and I talk about the weekly events of the Singapore Premier League every Wednesday at 10pm [SGT] on the SG Football Podcast stream – you can tune in via their Instagram or Facebook page.

Hougang United hosted Geylang International in a thriller of a match Friday evening. The Cheetahs conceded in the fourth minute to a Šime Žužul strike and it felt all too familiar for Eagles fans – an early goal that would see them clinch victory (just as they did against Sailors). Yet, it was not to be, and spectators were treated to a sensational finish to the game with Andre Moritz claiming the winner after his goal from the kickoff spot. An entertaining 3-2 fixture to kick off the Game Week 3.

Saturday saw two SPL fixtures take place with Balestier Khalsa hosting Tanjong Pagar United and Young Lions hosting Albirex Niigata (S). Balestier and Tanjong Pagar tussled in the first to gain the lead at halftime. After a tense battle between both sides, the Tigers came out on top with a 3-2 lead at halftime, with their Japanese offensive trio of Hoshino, Taniguchi and Kondo all grabbing a goal. However, the Jaguars regrouped during the interval and a double from Mirko Šugić restored Tanjong Pagar’s lead. Balestier looked a shadow of themselves in the second half and the Jaguars emerged as 5-3 victors.

In the other fixture, Young Lions were playing their first game of the season after the bulk of the square returned from the AFF U-23 Championship in Cambodia. After a disappointing campaign in Phnom Penh, the Cubs would have probably wanted to begin their season right. However, Albirex Niigata (S) inflicted a crushing 5-0 defeat to spoil the Young Lions’ return to SPL action. It was yet another resounding victory for the White Swans following their opening day defeat to Tanjong Pagar United – perhaps a reminder to the rest of the pack that they mean business.

Tampines Rovers and Lion City Sailors drew swords on Sunday’s fixture. It was a tense affair between both sides but many would feel that Tampines were the better side of the two. Despite engineering brilliant attacking movements, the Stags could not find the back of the net. Lion City Sailors, on the other hand, looked lost for good chunks of the game. The Stags conceded a dubious penalty and Kim Shin-wook stepped up to the spot to convert his chance with a brilliantly executed Panenka. The Stags did whatever they can to equalize and even had two goals disallowed – which raises an important issue for an article I might write about in the days to come.

You know it’s certainly an entertaining weekend when Jerome and myself found it difficult to form the first XI of our jointly selected Team of the Week. Nevertheless, we managed to pick whom we felt performed best and here they are!

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League, Lion City Sailors, and Tanjong Pagar United.

The Goalkeeper

Hassan Sunny

To be perfectly honest, none of the keepers truly impressed this week, but we felt that Hassan deserved the nod for keeping Tampines at bay. While other custodians fluffed at opportunities, the former Tampines Rovers custodian did well against his former side to maintain that truly important clean sheet and help ensure the Sailors’ narrow 1-0 victory.

The Defense

Aqhari Abdullah

The new Tanjong Pagar United signing was a real threat down the flank, and while the Tanjong Pagar United defence conceded three goals, Aqhari was an important reason why they did not concede more. On top of that, Aqhari whipped in a delicious cross in the 17th minute for Blake Ricciuto to head in Tanjong Pagar United’s second goal of the match.

Jun Kobayashi

Once again, the Albirex Niigata central defender held the backline well and snuffed out most of the Young Lions attacks. A solid overall display by Jun Kobayashi and the Albirex skipper truly led by example during the match. If he continues helming the defence, it’s anyone’s guess as to when Albirex might concede next.

Shuya Yamashita

Shuya did brilliantly against Kim Shin-wook and co. and was a rock in the back for the Stags. In fact, Kim Shin-wook often fell silent due to the marking by Shuya and his central defender partner Ryaan Sanizal. It was difficult to leave Ryaan out of this team of the week first XI, but Shuya gets the nod because of his excellent over the top through balls from the heart of defence that helped to kickstart attacks.

Darren Teh

Darren was known for great crosses during his time with Geylang International, and it seems that he has finally found his feet with Balestier Khalsa as he produced two fantastic assists to help his side. Darren lobbed the ball with such precision to Ryoya Taniguchi that the Japanese forward easily headed in Balestier’s second goal of the game. Darren’s second assist came from a set-piece in the 32nd minute of the match, where he curled the ball into the penalty box and Shuhei Hoshino headed in Balestier’s third goal of the evening.

The Midfield

Mirko Šugić

The Croatian midfield maestro was once again an important player for Tanjong Pagar in their clash against Balestier Khalsa. Making important forward passes to his teammates, Mirko was also critically scored two goals after the break to grant his team the lead. It was a masterclass by the 1.9 metre-tall midfielder, a man whom teams need to be paying more attention to. After all, this marks his third consecutive appearance in our Team of the Week series, and if his past few performances are anything to go by, he is only going to get better.

André Moritz

The well-travelled Brazilian attacking midfielder showed true class against Geylang International. After all, it was his shot that deflected off Shawal Anuar that helped Hougang United equalize the score. But it was his second goal, the winner, that mesmerized all that watched it. Seeing keeper Zaiful Nizam several yards off his line, he unleashed a beautiful chip from the kickoff spot after the referee blew his whistle for the restart. Geylang’s celebrations were short-lived thanks to Moritz.

Yasir Hanapi

On his day, the Tampines Rovers skipper is possibly one of the best dribblers in the SPL. Against Sailors, he was in fine form. His link-up play with his teammates was brilliant and he was making important runs off the ball as well. After expertly rounding Hassan Sunny in the first half, Yasir was denied the chance to notch a goal with a clearance by Amirul Adli. Despite this, he had a great game before getting substituted due to an injury midway in the second half.

Kan Kobayashi

The Japanese midfield ace demonstrated excellent movement on and off the ball against the Young Lions as he made key passes to his teammates in his deep-lying playmaker role. Kan Kobayashi’s presence helped stabilize the midfield, and this helped unleash his teammates to bombard forward. He also stepped up to take the stoppage-time penalty and duly converted to bring his tally to three goals this season and Albirex’s fifth for the evening.

Masahiro Sugita

The pacey and skilful left-winger was an instrumental player for the White Swans against Young Lions. Finding ample space down the left flank, Masahiro Sugita bagged a goal in the 81st minute to provide a comfortable cushion for the White Swans. We witnessed how goal difference could have been a potential difference-maker last season, and it seems that the Albirex players have been instructed to decimate their opponents. After scoring the third goal, Sugita assisted the fourth one and was brought down in the box for an Albirex penalty in stoppage time – which Kan Kobayashi stepped up and scored.

The Forward

Kodai Tanaka

After the Young Lions held the White Swans to a 0-0 scoreline for 33 minutes, it was the Japanese forward who broke the deadlock in the 34th minute. Finding space between the Young Lions’ central defenders, the Albirex forward broke free from his markers and carefully slotted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner of the net – well out of reach of the Young Lions custodian. 2 minutes later, Tanaka bagged his second of the night and that goal certainly deflated the morale of the cubs who had done well till that point to deny Albirex the chance to score.

The Bench

Image Credits: Singapore Premier League, Tampines Rovers and Hougang United.

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