|By Khalis Rifhan
Despite a disastrous opening day for Singapore clubs Warriors FC and Tampines Rovers in the AFC Cup - both teams lost their respective matches - all is not lost as there are still five more games left for them to earn themselves a spot in the second round.
The Warriors went into their match against Semen Padang on the back of a 6-1 defeat against Tanjong Pagar in the S.League and put on a display worthy of their name, but they eventually crumbled in the sweltering West Sumatra heat to lose 3-1 at the Haji Agus Salim Stadium in Padang.
With AFC rules only allowing four foreign players, including one Asian player slot, coach V. Selvaraj had to make a crucial decision to drop one of his five foreigners.
The former Singapore international decided to drop the non-performing Shimpei Sakurada and replaced him with ex-Singapore midfielder Shukor Zailan, who partnered ex-Japan international Kazuyuki Toda in the centre.
It was a decision that saw the eight times S.League champions play more cohesively and attack more as a unit, with Mislav Karoglan playing upfront with Sufian Anuar in a much-improved performance to offer some hope that things will get better.
Although the Warriors can blame the weather and the bumpy pitch in Indonesia, Tampines coach Nenad Bacina chose not to point fingers, instead claiming full responsibility for his team's loss.
The Stag were stunned by a marvelous display from Sai Gon Xuan Thanh's foreign duo of Cameroonian Christian Nsi Amougou and Ugandan international Moses Oloya, who made the difference in their match at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Amougou scored a brace while Oloya left the Tampines defence in tatters with his superb footwork throughout, and set up Pham Thua Chi for a third.
While Khairul Amri and Aleksandar Duric scored minutes before the end, there was to be no late equaliser as the Stags fell to an opening-day defeat.
There was an interesting subplot involving their Vietnamese opponents' club coach before the game, however. It was widely reported that head coach Lu Dinh Tuan was sacked by the club management after their 4-0 loss to SHB Da Nang in the Super Cup last month, which was mired in match-fixing allegations.
During the pre-match conference a day before the match, Dinh Tuan was then introduced as the club's Technical Director, even telling this reporter that the club had a new coach and that he was resting in his hotel room and would be seen at the match itself.
The twist came on matchday, when Dinh Tuan named himself as the club coach in the team sheet submitted to the match commissioner prior to the match, further deepening the mystery.
With Matchday 2 coming up this week, fans of both S.League sides will certainly hope that there won’t be any more surprises, on or off the field.
The Warriors will host Hong Kong's Kitchee FC at Jalan Besar on March 12, with the match kicking off at 7.45p.m while Tampines will travel to Shah Alam to take on the Red Giants of Selangor FA a day later.