AFC Cup 2019: High-flying Tampines Rovers face toughest test

It’s all looking good for Tampines Rovers these days after ditching German coach Jurgen Raab and putting faith in 28 year-old rookie Singapore coach Gavin Lee and his assistant, retired Singapore international Mustafic Fahrudin.

With a refreshing blend of possession-based football, the Stags have managed to achieve results while entertaining fans.  After a scintillating 3-1 comeback win over Yangon United in Myanmar, Tampines sit pretty at the top of the Singapore Premier league table after swatting aside Hougang United and Home United by identical 5-1 scorelines in the first two games of their Singapore Premier League campaign.

But Hanoi FC are a different proposition altogether.  They were impressive in their AFC Champions League play-off against Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng, and led 1-0 in the first half, only to run out of steam in the second half losing 1-4 eventually.  Dropping down to the second-tier AFC Cup, the Vietnamese champions recorded the biggest-ever win in AFC Cup history in their first round match, demolishing Cambodian side NagaWorld 10-0 to top Group F.

Vietnamese football has been on an upwards trajectory. The national team are the reigning Southeast Asian champions after winning the AFF Suzuki Cup last year and reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in January this year.

With national team players – defender Đoàn Văn Hậu, Midfielder Nguyễn Quang Hả, and forward Đỗ Hùng Dũng, all of whom starred for Vietnam in the AFC Asian Cup, and Nigerian Ganiyu Oseni, who plundered 4 goals against NagaWorld, in their ranks, Hanoi FC are a formidable proposition and should be the bookies’ favorite for the tie in Singapore and to win the group.

Tampines Rovers look revitalized this season. Wingers Ryutaro Megumi and Jordan Webb have sliced through opposing defences like hot knives through butter. It will be interesting to see how they stand up against a top South-East Asian side. 41 year old Daniel Bennett has marshalled the Tampines defence excellently thus far, but could be exposed by the speedy Hanoi’s attackers.  A win for the home side is not out of the question but it will take all of Gavin Lee’s tactical nous to mastermind a positive result.

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