League Cup Preview: Round 3

The final round of the competition will see holders Brunei DPMM attempt to qualify for the quarter-finals, with Home United and Woodlands Wellington having already made it
Group A: Home United vs Woodlands Wellington (June 11, Tuesday, 7.30p.m, Bishan Stadium)

With both these teams having already qualified for the quarter-finals, the battle will be for top spot when Home United and Woodlands Wellington meet in their third and final group game.

The Protectors are level on points with the second-placed Rams, but are ahead due to a superior goal difference having scored eight times in two games and conceding none. They cruised to an easy 3-0 win over Harimau Muda in their opener, before annihilating amateur National Football League side Admiralty FC 5-0 in their second game.

Remarkably, seven different scorers from all positions over the pitch have struck in those two games. Midfielder Aliff Shafaein is the player who netted once in both matches, and is joined by compatriots Firdaus Idros and Song Uiyoung; forwards Jordan Webb and Masrezwan Masturi are the other scorers, with Ismail Yunos and Sirina Camara chipping in from defence.

In contrast Woodlands made hard work of seeing off Admiralty in their clash, falling 2-0 at half-time before mounting a late comeback to take the game 3-2. They then ground out a 1-0 win over Harimau Muda to book their spot in the next stage, but only a win at Bishan Stadium will see them take first place.

Chang Jo Yoon and Oswind Suriya have each accounted for two of the total of four goals the Rams have scored, and coach Salim Moin will turn towards them to lead the way once again. However, star midfielder Khalid Hamdaoui seems to have fallen out of favor, and looks likely to continue his absence.

Home ran out comfortable 3-0 winners the last time both met in the league, where Lee Kwan Woo pulled all the strings in an imperious midfield display. Coach Lee Lim Saeng will look for more of the same from his Korean compatriot, as he bids to win the competition.

Group A: Admiralty FC vs Harimau Muda (June 11, Tuesday, 7.30p.m, Jalan Besar Stadium)

National Football League (NFL) club Admiralty FC and S.League side Harimau Muda both have no chance of qualifying to the quarters and will battle it out to advance to the Plate competition here.

Introduced a year ago, the Plate competition will see the third-placed team in each group face each other in a knockout format, with the winners of the semis advancing to the final. 

The Wolves were given a reality check in their previous match when they were walloped 5-0 by Lee Lim Saeng's Home United, while the Young Tigers were unfortunate to go down 1-0 against Woodlands Wellington.

The NFL side boast several former S.League players and Singapore internationals and will no doubt be eager to clinch maximum points against the Malaysian youths but one does not simply belittle Razip Ismail’s charges.Despite having the youngest squad in the competition, Harimau Muda have slaughtered more experienced teams in the league with their speed and stamina that is second to none.

The responsibility will once again be placed on the shoulders of starlet Maxsius Musa in midfield to provide the ammunition needed for the attackers. 

Upfront, Razip Ismail will no doubt rely on Faizat Ghazli and Akmal Ishak as they look to penetrate their opponents' backline, which will be marshaled by former Woodlands defender Daniel Hammond.

For the amateur side, player-coach Rozaidi Zainal will be looking to keep the score-line low should defeat come their way. 

With not much choice to choose from, Rozaidi will be starting with a similar line-up as they did against Home, although he will be forced to do without striker Manashzreen Masturi after he was shown the red card in that match.

Expect former Singapore international Azhar Baksin to be thrown into the starting line-up and use his experienced to steer the ship for the NFL side as they hope to eke out a victory against the Malaysians.

Group C: Geylang International vs Hougang United (June 11, Tuesday, 7.30p.m, Bedok Stadium)

Geylang International and Hougang United both have the chance to secure qualification to the quarter-finals and condemn the other to the Plate when they clash in their second and last group game.

Both teams held leaders Albirex Niigata to scoreless draws in their opening matches, which perhaps shows that there is nothing much separating the three sides in the group, although the Japanese team's fate is out of their own hands now.

Jozef Kaplan and Khairulnizam Jumahat netted for the Eagles in a 2-0 victory the last time they met in the league, but they were outplayed for large parts of the game and the Cheetahs would have felt aggrieved at losing the points.

Two-time League Cup runners-up Hougang will hope to go one better in this year's edition, and their decent form under interim coach Johana Johari should give them renewed hope and belief that they can go all the way, like they did in 2007 and 2011.

Mamadou Diallo, Tom Beattie and Jerome Baker are as potent as they come on their day, while at the back Fadhil Salim has been a rock in between the posts all season. While the Cheetahs were a little fortunate not to have lost against Albirex, they should be able to find more space in attack against Geylang here.

Should both sides play out yet another goalless draw, the top two spots will be determined by the number of yellow and red cards collected.

The team with the least number of cards will top the group, while the team with the worst disciplinary record will be placed bottom.

If somehow all three teams are still equal on all counts, lots will be drawn to determine the top two.

Group B: Tampines Rovers vs Courts Young Lions (June 12, Wednesday, 7.30p.m, Clementi Stadium)

Defending S.League champions and current table-toppers Tampines Rovers will fancy their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals here when they take on Courts Young Lions.

The Stags got their first win under the charge of Tay Peng Kee on Sunday evening when they saw off Tanjong Pagar United 2-1. That was also a first victory in three attempts, having crashed 4-0 to Balestier Khalsa and 2-1 to Hougang United earlier in league and Singapore Cup combat respectively.

Aleksandar Duric led the way with both goals against the Jaguars and will be once again required to lead the line, with the club having parted ways with striker Sead Hadzibulic. Forward Khairul Amri is back from international duty with Singapore, but might not be available as he was taken off with what looked like a hamstring injury in a 5-2 win against Laos. Left-back Shaiful Esah should join the fold again though, and his set-piece prowess will have the potential to hurt the Young Lions.

The Young Lions were brushed aside 3-0 by Tanjong Pagar in their opener, but a shock win here could see them get right back into contention for a quarter-final spot. That appears to be a tall task however, despite the return of rock-solid centreback Afiq Yunos from international duty and the good form of goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.

They lost the corresponding league fixture 3-0 earlier in the season, where the gulf in quality was apparent, and have had problems all season long both in front and at the back, as three goals scored and 30 conceded in 13 leagues games show. Striker Fareez Farhan will be suspended following a silly red card against the Jaguars, which will blunt their offence even more.

Coach Aide Iskandar has reiterated his belief in his young boys throughout the entire campaign however, and it will come down to who has the better disciplinary record (or lots being drawn, if that is not enough) if they can pull off the win here.

Group D: Warriors FC vs Balestier Khalsa (June 12, Wednesday, 7.30p.m, Choa Chu Kang Stadium)

The equation is simple: a win for Darren Stewart’s Balestier Khalsa will see them advance to the quarter-final stage alongside Brunei DPMM, who are on three points after both their matches.

However, maximum points for Warriors FC will see all three teams in Group B sit on three points each and the top two spots decided through goal difference. 

Balestier Khalsa have set their sights on the League Cup title and will be leaving no stone unturned as they look to add on to the Warriors' misery.

The uniformed giants lost their head coach V. Selvaraj as well as their opener to DPMM, with the former Singapore international revealing after the game that he had stepped down following a dismal season so far.

The hosts will be missing Syed Thaha for the tie after he was given the marching orders in their previous match against DPMM, and will look to captain Paul Cunningham to provide the inspiration upfront once again. 

Cunningham led the team's come-from-behind 2-1 victory against the Bruneians, and will be eager to add to his tally in the League Cup.

Although some quarters have likened the Tigers' style of play to those seen only in rugby matches, their hard tackling and no-nonsense style of football have seen opponents crumbling to the ground and wilting in the final stages of the match. 

Warriors, who have relied heavily on foreign striker Mislav Karoglan, will welcome the return of Sufian Anuar, who missed their previous match as the 26-year-old tied the knot on that day.

With Balestier keen to progress and the Warriors still finding their scoring touch, expect the tie to swing the way of the Toa Payoh-based club.