The Stags coach was pleased with his team’s performance and is looking to go far in the tournament after their come-from-behind victory against Indian side Pune FC in the AFC CupHaving lost their first two games against Kitchee SC and Nay Pyi Taw 5-0 and 3-1 respectively, few would have given Tampines Rovers any hope of a victory against Pune FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Wednesday evening.
But with their backs against the wall, the Stags showed their real quality as they came from behind to convincingly beat the Indian side 3-1 in their AFC Cup Group H match.
Riga Mustapha gave the away side an early lead via a penalty, but the hosts fought back with a brace from Miljan Mrdakovic and a stunner from Luis Closa to secure their first three points of the tournament.
It wasn’t just the result that pleased coach Salim Moin, but the manner of their victory and how well they kept possession that satisfied him most.
“I’ve always said that after the game with Geylang International (Tampines won 3-0), my team are able to play (show) a good performance so tonight, they showed the fans what the real Tampines Rovers are,” he gloated at the post-match press conference.
“All the players played very well, credit to the team and they followed the instructions well. You can see for yourself that we were always keeping ball possession, we never lost it. That was fantastic."
The win also spurred Salim to target AFC Cup glory with his side, so as to give a good account of themselves as representatives from Singapore.
“It’s a great honour for my club to play in the AFC Cup, we want to do well not only for the club, we want to do well for Singapore,” he said.
“If we do well, that means Singapore do well and hopefully the fans will come and say ‘look, Tampines are doing very well, they are carrying the colours of Singapore in the AFC’.
“Who knows, one day we might be playing in the Champions League. That is the goal; we must have a goal. Hopefully Tampines will be the first team to win the AFC Cup this year, why not? That’s the goal.”
In contrast, Pune coach Mike Snoei was disappointed with his team’s performance, considering they had an exceptional game in their 2-2 comeback draw against Kitchee last week.
“We started well when we scored the first goal from a penalty,” he said.
“Then the other team made it difficult for us. They played more forward (offensively) because it was 1-0 for us and we came into trouble. I think after the first half hour, it was a well-deserved win for the opponents because they played well and they were patient."
The Dutchman also said that Kitchee would be the favourites to win the group and that the other three remaining clubs, namely Tampines, Nay Pyi Taw and his side, would have to battle it out for second place.
But until then, Salim is already turning his focus on their upcoming top-of-the-table clash against Brunei DPMM this weekend.
“The preparations already started yesterday night,” he said.
“It’ll be a very exciting match. Everyone is saying that DPMM is one of the title contenders, but I’d like to say that every single team in the S.League are contenders. They want to beat us so we have to be sure that we are well prepared and I hope my players will be strong mentally and physically.”
The Stags are set to face DPMM this Sunday at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Brunei.