The reigning S.League champions hit the woodwork twice but were unable to stop their impressive Malaysian Premier League opponents, who ran out 2-0 victorsOn paper, it sounded like an easy match for the champions of the S.League as they went up against a side who were relegated from the Malaysia Super League last season.
Instead, Tampines Rovers were outclassed by an impressive Felda United as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at the Jurong West stadium on the Tuesday night in their first pre-season match of the 2014 season.
The Stags are gearing up for the AFC Champions League (ACL) play-off against Hong Kong side South China AA in February but were without Aleksandar Duric, Shariff Samat, Anaz Hadee and Firdaus Kasman, who were all out injured.
Despite that, the reigning S.League champions still boasted the likes of veteran Mustafic Fahrudin, striker Noh Alam Shah and Paraguayan duo Roberto Martinez and Luis Closa.
However, it was the visitors who started the game better while the Stags looked rusty and lacked match sharpness.
Unsurprisingly, the Settlers took a deserved lead midway through the first half when Mustafic misplaced a pass in his own half. Zahrahan got the ball on the right and sent in a low cross that was fluffed by new goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma’at, allowing Edward Wilson to tap the ball into an empty net.
The hosts then tried to force their way back into the game and had a couple of decent chances to draw level.
Alam Shah had a great opportunity to equalise in the 34th minute after beating the offside trap, but failed to score after going one-on-one with Felda goalkeeper Fairul Azwan.
Closa’s long-range effort a few minutes later beat Azwan, but the ball hit the outside of the post.
Alam Shah again missed a gilt-edged chance in the beginning of the second half after Martinez went to the byline and squared the ball to the striker, but he failed to tap in the ball from two yards.
In the 75th minute, Shahdan Sulaiman hit a trademark long-range strike that hit the bar.
Immediately after that, Felda got their second goal of the game after a cross by substitute Abdul Latif reached left-back Aizul Ridzuan, whose glorious first-time volley bounced off the post into the net.
Despite the loss, new Stags coach Salim Moin was pleased with the efforts of his players, whom he admitted lacked confidence and match fitness.
“I’m very happy [with the performance],” he said after the match.
“The only thing we have to improve is the fitness of the team and confidence in ball possession. If we have that I believe we are able to score goals.
“They are quality players in terms of ball play and organisation, and tactically they are very sound. They can improve in terms of pressing and closing down of the players. I believe that the team will improve when we come back from Cambodia.”
The former Woodlands coach also raved about the performance of his foreign players, but reserved special praise to Paraguayan playmaker Closa.
“Closa is a very creative player and he understands the game very well,” he said.
“It’s very exciting to see him make good passes to split the defense. There were a couple of times he took shots on goal and if you are unable to close him down, about 25 metres away from the goal line, he will be able to score many goals.
“He has this instinct that is very exciting to see and has given us an edge.”
Salim was also bullish when asked if his team can team win the title again this season.
“Of course [we can win the title],” he said.
“That is our aim. Even for the AFC Cup, we are looking forward to qualify for the semi finals or the finals.
"These players are quality players. They must believe in themselves, they must believe that they are champions and that they are among the best players in the region.”
The Stags will travel to Cambodia next on January 15 for a six-day trip for two friendly games as part of their pre-season preparations.