The 2013 StarHub League Cup kicks off, with a National Football League side in the form of Admiralty FC involved for the very first time
S.League debutants Harimau Muda B will make their League Cup bow on the opening day of the tournament, as they face off against uniformed giants Home United.
The Malaysian Under-19 side struggled in the initial few rounds of the S.League, but to their credit, they have recovered well and got back on track in recent weeks. An upsurge in form has seen them move into the top half of the table in sixth, where they sit two places behind Home.
The Protectors similarly experienced a slow start after being touted as title contenders during pre-season, but have bounced back to get right into the mix for the second half of the season.
Home have won their last two games in a row, both against Albirex Niigata, with the second one in the Singapore Cup. Harimau Muda on the other hand, crashed out with a 3-0 loss against visiting Loyola Meralco Sparks.
The Young Tigers suffered a 1-0 loss at home to Home in their corresponding league fixture earlier this season, and the man who scored in that game will be the one to watch.
Lee Kwan Woo has been in sensational form since moving to Bishan Stadium, with the 35-year-old showing every ounce of his class as he dictates the game for Home from midfield. Adept at freekicks and corners, the former Korean international is their top-scorer, and will look to supply the likes of Jordan Webb as coach Lee Lim Saeng looks for a repeat win.
For Razip Ismail’s side, Maxsius Musa is absolutely flying down the wings for them. Silky-smooth and quick on the turn, the tricky winger has been a nightmare for every team he has faced and will look to link up with Faizat Ghali and top-scorer Ridzuan Abdunloh to upset their mighty opponents.
Group A: Woodlands Wellington vs Admiralty FC (June 5, Wednesday, 7.30p.m, Woodlands Stadium)
Admiralty FC will represent the National Football League (NFL) in the League Cup for the first time ever in the competition's history, as they take on Woodlands Wellington in the other Group A fixture.
The NFL side saw off fellow Division 1 club Singapore Cricket Club 2-1 in the semi-finals of the qualifiers before triumphing 3-1 in the final over Singapore Recreation Club, who had beaten Sporting Westlake 1-0 in the other semi, to qualify for the tournament proper.
Guntur Djafril, Shamsurin Rahman and K. Sathiaraj will return to face their former employers, with Admiralty also boasting players with S.League experience, like ex-Tanjong Pagar United defender Jonathan Xu and midfielder Azhar Baksin.
Meanwhile, Woodlands themselves will hope to pick themselves up from their 4-1 hammering by Geylang International in the Singapore Cup. That loss extended their winless run to four in a row, which has seen them slump to eighth in the S.League table after a decent start to the campaign.
The Rams have only scored twice during that period through Atsushi Shimono and Moon Soon Ho, who have both been integral to coach Salim Moin's plans this season. The former is a dynamic midfielder who runs the rule over the team's play in the middle of the pitch, while the latter is Woodlands' most reliable source of goals.
The defensive duo of Shariff Samat and Rosman Sulaiman will be missed, after their stellar seasons saw them being brought into the Singapore national team fold, but Woodlands should still have more than enough in their team to overpower their amateur league opponents.
Group C: Hougang United vs Albirex Niigata (S) (June 5, Wednesday, 7.30p.m, Hougang Stadium)
2011 League Cup finalists Hougang United and Albirex Niigata (S) will meet again this year, with the latter hoping to emulate their triumphant run, where they defeated the Cheetahs on penalties in the final after a goal-less draw in normal time.
That was the Japanese side’s first piece of silverware ever since they joined the S.League, where they have started to establish themselves as genuine contenders during the past two seasons. Currently sitting in second in the table, the White Swans will be keen to do well here after being eliminated from the Singapore Cup last week by Home.
Meanwhile, Hougang come into this match off the back of a stunning 2-1 comeback win over league champions Tampines Rovers in their Singapore Cup tie. They will be reasonably confident of their chances on home soil, where they have recorded five straight wins, including the Tampines game.
That great run included victories over the likes of Brunei DPMM and Home, as interim coach Johana Johari looks to have motivated the side to play some efficient and attractive football after taking over from Alex Weaver. The likes of Mamadou Diallo, Liam Shotton and Thomas Beattie have noticeably started to pull their weight, while Fadhil Salim is arguably the goalkeeper of the season so far.
Koichi Sugiyama will look to S.League leading scorer Kazuki Sakamoto to fire his team to glory, with the striker benefitting from the patient build-up style that the Japanese coach insists on them playing. Sakamoto struck twice to lead Albirex to a 2-1 come-from-behind win over Hougang the last time they met in the league, which completed a double for the Japanese side. Captain Shuhei Hotta drives the side from midfield, while the powerful runs of Bruno Castanheira provides a more direct threat for the White Swans.
Group B: Tanjong Pagar United vs Courts Young Lions (June 6, Thursday, 7.30p.m, Queenstown Stadium)
High-flying Tanjong Pagar United welcome the visit of beleaguered Courts Young Lions as they kick off their League Cup campaign, amid real hope of silverware this season.
They finished 12th out of 13 sides last year, but the Jaguars have been the S.League’s surprise package this term, having hit a league-high 25 goals in 14 games to sit third in the table currently. They thumped Cambodian league champions Boeung Ket FC 4-1 in their last outing in the Singapore Cup, with all five goals accounted for by their own players, such is their attacking prowess.
Ismael Benahmed scored the unfortunate own goal in that game, but he also netted once at the right end. The Frenchman is part of a fearsome trio with Monsef Zerka and Kamel Randani, with the three of them bagging 20 out of the 25 goals for the Jaguars in the league. Flying winger Hafiz Nor will be unavailable however, as his scintillating form has led to a national team call-up for the latest Singapore squad.
In contrast, the Young Lions have only found the back of the net a whimpering three times, while leaking a massive 30 goals at the other end. It comes as no surprise that such dismal form has resulted in them lying rock-bottom in the table, while they also crashed out of the Singapore Cup in their last game after a 1-0 loss to Balestier Khalsa.
Aide Iskandar’s boys do seem to have had their morale uplifted after an encouraging 1-1 draw away to Brunei DPMM prior to that defeat, which was their first point of the season after an opening run of 12 straight losses.
The returning Afiq Yunos has been a rock at the heart of the Young Lions defense but has also been called up to the Lions team, which will be a huge blow for their chances. The Jaguars put four past them without reply earlier in the league this season and will fancy their chances of repeating something similar at home.
Group D: Balestier Khalsa vs Brunei DPMM (June 6, Thursday, 7.30p.m, Toa Payoh Stadium)
Hopes were high for Brunei DPMM after their superb runners-up finish in the S.League last season, but the Sultanate’s only professional club looks to be well off the boil currently in terms of the title race.
They currently sit seventh in the league after some real Jekyll-and-Hyde form, and the defending League Cup champions will view this year’s edition as a good opportunity to add to their trophy haul from 2009 and last year.
The Wasps have fallen to the likes of unfancied Warriors FC and Harimau Muda this season, and became the first team to drop points against a previously point-less Courts Young Lions in their last league fixture. However, they do come into this clash against Balestier Khalsa after a 4-0 whitewash of Lao Police Club in the Singapore Cup, which should have gone some way to restoring morale in the dressing room.
Former Portugal Under-21 striker Joao Moreira has been their leading light upfront with six goals in the league, and the lanky targetman is ably backed up by Brunei star Shahrazen Said and brother adi. In midfield, Vjeran Simunic counts on Azwan Salleh and captain Rosmin Kamis to spur the team on, while the return of giant Brazilian Tales dos Santos at centreback has been a huge boost.
Meanwhile, Darren Stewart’s Tigers have won three of their last four games, with a 4-0 dismantling of league leaders Tampines Rovers a particular highlight, given that the scoreline hardly flattered them.
They eliminated the Young Lions 1-0 in the Singapore Cup in their latest triumph, and have skipper Paul Cunningham turning in a great impression as an established striker upfront, with the defender still not fit enough for a slot at the back.
Balestier will miss the mercurial talents of Qiu Li, who is away with the Singapore squad after being recalled due to some excellent performances this season, but they still have the effervescent Park Kang Jin and Tengku Mushadad to fight the midfield battle.
Stewart is known to be good friends with Simunic, but the Australian will certainly not want to do the Croat any favors here, having fallen to a harsh 1-0 defeat against DPMM in the league this term.