|By Khalis Rifhan
Tampines Rovers crashed out of the AFC Cup group stages for the second year in a row after they failed to grab maximum points in Hanoi, as their match against Sai Gon Xuan Than ended in a 2-2 draw at the Thong Nhat Stadium on Tuesday evening.
The Stags opened the scoring through Khairul Amri but the hosts turned things around before the break courtesy of a goal each from Moses Oloya and Christian Nsi Amougou, although Sead Hadzibulic restored pride for the visitors with a goal three minutes after the hour mark.
With both of their Japanese central defenders Seiji Kaneko and Kunihiro Yamashita out for selection due to injury, Tampines coach Nenad Bacina opted for captain Mustafic Fahrudin in defence, with marquee player Martin Wagner slotting into his usual spot in the centre of midfield.
The first chance of the match fell to veteran ex-Singapore international Aleksandar Duric, whose curling shot eluded goalkeeper Tan Truong but not the upright in the 10th minute of the game.
But the visitors duly got the opener six minutes later, as Amri nodded the ball into the back of the net to bring joy to the Stags bench.
That joy did not last long though. A minute later, Amougou was brought down in the box and referee Wang Di pointed to the spot. The Cameroonian striker made no mistake from the spot to make it 1-1.
It looked as if it was all over for the Stags five minutes before the half-time interval when Sai Gon took the lead after Oloya got to the end of a knock-down by Amougou and hit a low shot beyond goalkeeper Sasa Dreven.
Being a goal down, Bacina brought on Jamil Ali for Martin Wagner in the 5t6th minute o add firepower and creativity in the midfield, and the change was rewarded with an equaliser soon after.
Jamil had a hand in the buildup to the goal and it was finished off by Hadzibulic, who connected with Firdaus Kasman's cross to send an unstoppable volley past Truong.
It could have been all three points for the defending S.League champions if not for the heroics of Truong, who spectacularly palmed away a powerful header by Hadzibulic 10 minutes before the end of regulation time.
The Stags failed to find the winner they needed in the closing stages, as their AFC Cup dreams went up in smoke.