By Afifah Ariffin
Tanjong Pagar United FC emerged as ultimate victors last night in the FAS Women’s Challenge Cup after beating Police Sports Association on penalties to complete a league and cup double.
A stunning free-kick from Luo Jian Zhen cancelled out Police SA’s early lead, bringing the game into a penalty shoot-out where the Jaguars held their nerve to triumph 5-4.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Combined University Team came up against Young Women’s in the third/fourth-placing match, which ended in favour of the latter in a 4-1 win.
That, coupled with the clear night sky, set the stage at Jalan Besar Stadium for the cup final as boisterous supporters from both sides cheered on their respective teams. Both sides last met in the opening match of the group stages, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
As the players emerged from the tunnel, it was obvious from their faces that they were determined to play their best to clinch the coveted cup.
Tanjong Pagar fielded virtually the same side that demolished University Team in the semi-finals, with the exception of Japanese talisman Miku Sakurada. On the other hand, Police SA started without captain and centre-back Shida Baker.
The Jaguars’ attack was clearly missing star playmaker Sakurada, as Police dominated possession and constantly terrorized the Tanjong Pagar defense.
It was no surprise when they took the lead in the 39th minute, as Midfielder Mastura Jeilani’s free kick was punched away by Eng Chiu, only for striker Nuriah Noor to lash the rebound into the back of the net and give her side a half-time advantage.
The second half ensued with more attacking play from both sides, which eventually paid off for Tanjong Pagar as they leveled in the 74th minute.
A defensive error from Police resulted in a freekick for the Jaguars, and Jian Zhen duly stepped up to strike a spectacular shot into the top-left corner of the goal to bring them back into the game.
Neither side was able to score again as the game finished 1-1, which meant that both teams proceeded to the dreaded penalty shootout.
Jaguars custodian Eng Chiu emerged the heroine as she blocked Nurashida Rashid’s shot in sudden-death, sealing a 5-4 win on penalties for her side to leave the Police players heartbroken.
After the match, Police captain Nuranis claimed she was still “really happy” with her team’s performance.
“We did really well tonight. In soccer, the ball is round and anything can happen. But I’m really happy and proud of my team. And it’s okay, we’ll come back stronger next year,” she said.
Needless to say, the Tanjong Pagar players wasted no time in celebrating their much-deserved victory.
“I feel very happy because all my players never gave up,” Jaguars coach Tan Kah Hua said in delight, and also described Jian Zhen’s strike as a “fantastic, world-class free kick”.
More affectionately known as ‘Ah Zhen’ to her team, Jian Zhen was clearly the star of the match and she was adamant that “everybody played their part” in the victory, despite the absence of the “valuable” Sakurada.
“I felt the responsibility to lift our team’s spirits. The opponents gave us a tough time [as] they kept possession and played attacking football,” she pointed out.
“But the team didn’t give up until the end. Although one of our players missed a penalty, our keeper saved two and at the end, it really showed how bonded our team was.”
The win meant that the Jaguars ended their season as double champions, having clinched the Women’s League earlier this year.