|JALAN BESAR STADIUM
By Khalis Rifhan
Despite putting up a strong challenge against Tampines Rovers early on in the game, Loyola Meralco Sparks eventually crumbled in the second leg of their Singapore Cup semi-final to lose 3-0.
Two goals from evergreen striker Aleksandar Duric and an injury-time goal from Imran Sahib in the last quarter of the match finally broke the resistance of the energetic Philippines outfit, who gave their all despite already being 2-0 down from the first-leg.
“We wanted to score early but it did not happen," lamented team manager Vincent Santos.
“We had to go for it today. In the first half we did show some promising runs but we could not convert those chances.
"We came into the second half positively and tried to get a goal back after going a goal down [but we failed]."
Tampines coach Tay Peng Kee was aware of the threat Loyola possessed before the match, hence his decision to have as many men as possible behind his trio of attackers.
“We wanted to have seven men behind the ball and let the three strikers do their jobs," explained Tay.
"We knew that Loyola would play the ball long and press us on the quick counter attacks, which are dangerous.
“It was an exciting game and it could have been different if we had scored in the first half. We came back in the second half and finished them off.”
With both teams eager to break the deadlock, things flared up midway through the second half, with Stags striker Noh Alam Shah alleged to have gone beyond merely exchanging words during one particular incident.
“There was a spitting [incident] on our player by him [Alam Shah]," claimed Santos.
"It should not have been allowed [and] it should be properly addressed.”
Although Tay evaded the questions regarding Alam Shah, he did however say that the former national striker was not a pushover.
“I did not see anything. But Alam Shah is very competitive - that’s the way he plays. He is not going to back out on anybody," stressed Tay.
"He does not fear anybody. If you are hard, he can be harder with you.”
Crashing out of a semi-final cup tie by a five-goal margin on aggregate may be harsh to swallow for some, but not Loyola, who were thankful to be able to use this opportunity to improve themselves.
“There are so many positive to take back to the Philippines. We are here to compete and learn [and] we made it this far to the semifinal, and [we] will be back for the third-place playoff," reflected Santos.
"It gives us confidence going back to our [own] semi-professional league.”