Tampines Rovers seal 2-1 AFC Cup win over Felda United

S.League giants Tampines Rovers are up and running in the AFC Cup after claiming a 2-1 victory over Felda United of Malaysia in their opening Group G clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday.

Following a goalless first half, Son Yong-chan nodded the Stags into the lead four minutes after the hour mark, before Khairul Amri came off the bench to add a second in the 83rd minute.

Fazrul Hazli Kadri pulled one back for the visitors with three minutes from time although it proved to be a mere consolation, as Tampines held on for maximum points.

The victory gave Tampines an early lead at the top of the table, after the other Group G clash between Ha Noi and Ceres-Negros over in Vietnam ended in a 1-1 draw.

Despite eventually claiming an important opening triumph, the Stags were made to work for it against a Felda outfit that looked perfectly content to sit back and defend.

In a remarkably poor first half, the only real opening arrived on the half-hour mark when Ismadi Mukhtar's right-wing cross was guided by Ryutaro Megumi into the path of Ivan Dzoni, who could only blaze way over from inside the area.

The hosts were the side showing more initiative but they were struggling to carve apart their defensive opponents, and the lack of goal-mouth action initially continued after the break.

Nonetheless, to the delight of the 1,277 fans present at Jalan Besar, the deadlock was finally broken in the 64th minute when Raspreet Sandhu floated a lovely left-wing cross to find the late run of Son.

With no defender in attendance, the South Korean coolly glanced his header into the bottom corner to hand his side the lead.

Now in possession of the lead, Tampines were firmly in the driving seat and, curiously, Felda continued to show a lack of endeavour going forward.

With seven minutes remaining, the hosts looked to have sealed the win.

Breaking down the right, Megumi whipped in a low cross that completely took opposition goalkeeper Farizal Harun out of the equation, paving the way for the perfectly-positioned Amri to bundle home from two yards out.

Just when it looked as though they would comfortably see out the remainder of the contest, Felda grabbed a lifeline courtesy of a stunning effort by substitute Fazrul.

There appeared to be no danger when the ball bounced into his path 25 yards out from goal, but he proceeded to unleash a ferocious dipping half-volley that looped over a hapless Izwan Mahbud and dipped into the back of the net.

Now, it looked as though a shock comeback was on the cards and, deep into injury-time, the visitors had one final chance to force the draw.

But after creating space for himself well on the edge of the area, Lucas Cano could only drag his shot wide of the target, allowing Tampines to go on and seal a positive start to their continental campaign.

"It's definitely very important that we start the season very well," said Tampines assistant coach Herman Zailani, speaking in place of head coach Jurgen Raab, who was absent from the bench as he was unwell.

"This win at home puts us in a good position as our next two games [in the AFC Cup] are away.

"It's good for the morale and, overall, I think this is something we have to build upon."

Meanwhile, Felda coach Mohamad Nik refused to get overly critical of his charges despite their winless run extending to six matches.

"Our players did a very good job in the first half and were very disciplined," he said.

"We then changed to two players up front in the second half because we were trying to get a goal, and Tampines scored their first goal -- I think it was because of a lack of concentration or fitness on our parts.

"Actually, this tournament is of a higher level than our Malaysian league.

"So, even though we lost, I think it will help us improve some more in the league."

Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Fahrudin Mustafic, Daniel Bennett, Ismadi Mukhtar, Son Yong-chan, Yasir Hanapi (Hafiz Rahim 76'), Irwan Shah, Ryutaro Megumi, Raspreet Sandhu (Sahil Suhaimi 84'), Ivan Dzoni (Khairul Amri 70')

Felda United: Farizal Harun, Hasnizaidi Jamian, Mootaz Junaidi, Norfazly Alias, Aizulridzwan Razali, Shukor Adan, Stuart Wark, Ridzuan Abdunloh (Gaston Cellerino 69'), Zah Rahan Krangar, Hadin Azman (Fazrul Hazli Kadri 82'), Lucas Cano