It seemed a simple enough task for S.League champions Tampines Rovers. Avoid defeat and qualification to the knockout stages of the AFC Cup would be confirmed.
But somehow, the Stags fell to a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Nay Pyi Taw FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday evening to crash out of the tournament at the group stage yet again.
Former S.League player Carlos Delgado’s strike late in the second half proved to be the telling difference as the tournament debutants leapfrogged the Stags to second place to qualify for the knockout stages.
A visibly disappointed Salim Moin denied that his team played for a draw, instead lamenting his team’s loss of concentration for the goal as the cause of defeat.
“We were not going to play for a draw,” the Tampines coach said at the post-match press conference.
“We were too comfortable and the team lapsed in terms of concentration. Of course I feel very disappointed. In terms of urgency, Nay Pyi Taw had more desire.
“My team tried to cope in terms of speed and I told my team to prevent them from crossing. The goal could have been prevented, but my players were slow in terms of collecting the rebound. If they reacted accordingly, the goal could have been prevented.”
The former Woodlands Wellington coach, however, refused to blame his players for the loss and instead pinned responsibility on his own shoulders for the team’s inability to qualify for the next round.
“It’s every coach’s dream to progress,” he said. “I was almost there. I take responsibility for the team performance. Nevertheless, I’m very happy because it’s a bit challenging for me, so I hope we come back strong and we concentrate in the S.League so we can come back to play in the AFC Cup next year.”
Salim also noted how Delgado and Obadin Aikhena, former S.League campaigners, played a part in his side’s defeat on the night.
“Delgado knows the Singapore style of play, while Obadin also played in Singapore, so they know the strengths and weaknesses of Tampines,” he remarked.
Likewise, Nay Pyi Taw coach Myo Hlaing Win also remarked about the two players' key role in his side’s unlikely victory.
“They played in Singapore before, especially Carlos,” he said.
“He knows how to play in Singapore, he is good in shooting so I expected him to shoot [for the goal] for sure. In terms of defending, Obadin controlled our defending very well.”
The Myanmar coach didn’t just praise the two players, but his entire team as well for showing the desire and discipline to beat the S.League champions on their home turf. The result was one that surprised him too, he admitted.
“Tampines are strong team with good quality players,” he said. “They have good players, including the foreign players. But our team had heart and we were disciplined on the field.
“We didn’t expect to get to the next stage. We don’t have many national players in the country and our players are still young. This is also our first time in the AFC Cup and we are very lucky to be in Group H and to get the chance to get to the next stage.”
For Salim, he now has to pick his team up as they resume their S.League duties with a match against Tanjong Pagar on Friday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.