SINGAPORE — There will be times when nothing goes right for a professional football club. For Lion City Sailors, this past week has been an utterly horrible one.
Not only did they lose 0-4 to their Singapore Premier League (SPL) title-chasing rivals, but they were also undone by a contentious call by the video assistant referee (VAR). Worse still, their key signing of the year suffered a season-ending injury during the dreadful defeat.
The said league match happened on Thursday (9 March) against defending champions Albirex Niigata (Singapore) at Jurong East Stadium. It was the first clash of the SPL season between these two title favourites, and it was built up to be a fierce battle for an early edge in the title chase.
Instead, everything changed in the 16th minute, when the tie was still goalless. Sailors midfielder M. Anumanthan was initially given a yellow card for a cynical foul near the centre circle, but following a lengthy VAR check, the referee changed the yellow card to red, thereby reducing the Sailors to 10 men.
Things went from bad to worse, as defender Lionel Tan deflected a cross into his own goal in the 30th minute and Albirex fullback Ryo Takahashi finished off a sweeping move with a powerful shot seven minutes later to put the Sailors 0-2 behind at the break.
More bad news was to come in the 58th minute, when Sailors’ striker Kodai Tanaka – signed from Albirex in the off season – went off with a serious-looking injury. He was later diagnosed to have suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury, which will rule him out for the entire SPL season.
Albirex rubbed salt onto the wounds of a demoralised Sailors with two late goals via Riku Fukashiro (87th minute) and Seia Kunori (89th) for their second win of the season.
Tampines Rovers sweep to top of table
At the Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday, Tampines Rovers swept to the top of the SPL table with a comfortable 3-0 win over the Young Lions. They now have two wins and a draw to start off the season.
Veteran Singapore national forward Faris Ramli continued his hot start, scoring for the third consecutive match. His 34th minute strike is sandwiched between Taufik Suparno’s 31st-minute opener and Ong Yu En’s 82nd-minute tap-in.
Tampines replaced Geylang International at the top of the league, after the Eagles suffered a 0-2 defeat by Tanjong Pagar United at Jurong East Stadium on Friday.
Captain Shakir Hamzah opened accounts for the Jaguars with a point-blank shot in the 19th minute, before their Australian midfielder Blake Ricciuto headed home in the 48th minute to settle the tie.
Arguably the most entertaining match of Game Week 3 came at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday, when Balestier Khalsa snatched a dramatic late winner to beat Brunei’s DPMM FC 4-3 for their second win of the season.
DPMM had started strongly with two goals in the opening seven minutes through Andrey Voronkov (5th) and Azwan Ali Rahman (7th). Balestier got a goal back in the 18th minute through Japanese import Ryoya Taniguchi, but DPMM restored their two-goal cushion in first-half stoppage time via Josip Balic.
The turning point came in the 55th minute, when the referee awarded Balestier a penalty after Daniel Goh was fouled in the box by Yura Indera Putera. After a VAR check, Indera Putera’s yellow card was upgraded to red as he was deemed to have stomped on Goh’s legs.
Alen Kozar converted the spot kick, and Taniguchi equalised nine minutes later with a fine shot just inside the penalty area. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the game, the Japanese completed the first hat-trick of the SPL season with an even better shot from just outside the box, sending Balestier fans into delirium as they clinched a wild match.
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