SINGAPORE – After enduring a torrid time the past few months, Tampines Rovers are determined to get back to winning ways as they resume their Singapore Premier League campaign against Lion City Sailors on Sunday (Aug 15).
Their maiden Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign in Uzbekistan ended in July with six straight losses. The Stags, who were grouped with South Korean champions Jeonbuk Motors, J1 League runners-up Gamba Osaka and Thai FA Cup winners Chiangrai United, conceded 27 goals and scored one in Tashkent.
Tampines were dealt another blow after the ACL, as two players tested positive for the coronavirus after returning to Singapore, putting paid to the team’s plans to train in a bubble environment during their mandatory two-week quarantine. The two young players have since been discharged from hospital but have yet to resume training with the team.
Despite these challenges, Tampines coach Gavin Lee is looking forward to the resumption of their domestic campaign and believes the team’s ACL experience has also inspired his charges.
Lee, 30, said: “We’re just looking forward to it and playing the Sailors is even better because we enjoy the big games against them.
“Hopefully those lessons (from the ACL) will help the whole club take one step forward because we spent a lot of time with all these big clubs in Asia, so we got to see and experience for ourselves what top-level standards are in Asia and the benchmark the players have set for themselves has naturally gone up a few levels so that’s good as well.”
Veteran defender Daniel Bennett, 43, admitted that the campaign was tough for players both physically and mentally as they played some of Asia’s best in just over two weeks, but insisted that there were positives to take away from the experience.
Citing the Stags’ performances in their first two games against Osaka and Chiangrai, which ended in a 2-0 and 1-0 loss respectively, he said: “There’s no hiding that it was a difficult tournament for us, but I would hope to think that those first two games were the games we were able to get our full-strength team out and do what we could.
“In certain ways, we showed we could play against these teams, we showed we were okay with the ball and if we can do that against them, then coming back here, hopefully we should be more comfortable with more time on the ball.”
With players unable to leave their hotel, training was done virtually and players maintained their fitness using stationary bikes that were delivered to their rooms.
They also did strength and conditioning exercises with light weights.
While it was not an ideal arrangement, Stags captain Yasir Hanapi said the team made the most of the situation and believes a win against the Sailors is possible.
Tampines are fourth in the league standings and seven points behind second-place Sailors, who have played a game more.
The 32-year-old urged his teammates to transfer the lessons learnt from the ACL to the pitch, adding: “I’m expecting a very tough fight – they’re not an easy team, they’re one of the top teams, if not the top team in the league.
“But if we give our all and stick together as a team, we could win something.”
While Tampines have faced difficulties in their league preparations, the Sailors coach Kim Do-hoon is not taking Sunday’s game lightly.
He may be without Brazilian defender Jorge Fellipe, who is suspended after accumulating a fourth yellow card, but Kim is confident in his squad’s ability.
The stakes are high for the Sailors, who still have a shot at winning the title as they sit just six points behind league leaders Albirex Niigata (34 points) with two games in hand.
Kim said: “It is an important game because we need a positive result to keep the pressure on Albirex Niigata.
“I don’t think it’s fair to use the disruptions faced by Tampines as a point against them because they’re still a strong side.
“Mentally, they have also learnt from their time in the Champions League and I have prepared accordingly.”