Singapore Cup • September 26, 2014
Brilliant Zaiful Secures Tigers’ Maiden Singapore Cup Final
Written By: Kenneth Ho
Balestier Khalsa made its way into the RHB Singapore Cup final after goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam produced a man-of-the-match performance to eventually oust Tampines 4-1 in the semi-final’s penalty shootout.
The game ended 1-0 in the return leg at Toa Payoh Stadium on Thursday evening after Paul Cunningham’s goal in the second leg tied the aggregate 2-2 to send the game to extra time.
The first leg had ended 2-1 in Tampines’ favour with no away goals being counted in this tournament.
Zaiful not only kept a clean sheet, but also made three saves in the shootout before scoring the winning spot-kick to send the Tigers delirious.
In a game which featured only one goal in regulation time, chances were at a premium.
Tampines Rovers had the first chance of the game as Shahdan Sulaiman ran onto Ismadi Mukhtar’s lay-off to strike one from distance but the shot was weak and easily saved.
The Stags then nearly doubled the advantage on aggregate when Aleksandar Duric struck in a superb volley in the 16th minute but Zaiful pulled off a smart-reflex save to parry the effort away.
Growing frustrated at the lack of openings, Balestier midfielder Park Kang Jin attempted a scorcher from 25 yards in the 28th minute but Justin Pasfield had no trouble catching the ball in mid-air.
The hosts then almost capitalised on a poor clearance by Anaz Hadee, as Goran Ljubojevic took the loose ball and set it up for Ruhaizad Ismail, only for him to blast it over.
Pasfield was called upon again in the 35th minute, as he had to make a block from Ljubojevic’s header before the referee blew for half-time.
The game continued in the same way thereafter, with both sides unable to pry open the respective backlines.
Balestier had a good chance to draw his side level in the tie in the 57th minute, when Emir Lotinac found himself unmarked at a tight angle from three yards out at the near post, but in his rush he blazed the ball over.
However, Paul Cunningham made up for his colleague’s miss, as he found the back of the net with a thumping header four minutes later following a scramble in the box.
Duric had a good chance to give his side the advantage again in the two-legged affair in the 65th minute, but after good work from Jozef Kaplan, the former powered a header just wide of the post.
In truth, the tie should have been over by the end of the 90 minutes, as Tampines proceeded to take advantage of tiring legs in the game to create more opportunities.
Unfortunately, Zaiful was in inspired form at the back as he kept out shots from Jufri Taha and Duric towards the end of the game to send the tie into extra-time.
Even in extra-time, the goalkeeper was imperious as he continued to pull off superb saves. Noh Alam Shah was on the end of one after being put through on goal in the 100th minute but a diving Zaiful denied his low drive.
There was no surprise then when it came to the shootout that Zaiful made consecutive saves from Shahdan and Fahrudin Mustafic.
While he did allow in Jacob Butler’s spot-kick, Zaiful proceeded to score the winning spot-kick to complete a masterful performance.
Cunningham, Ljubojevic and Kim Minho were the other scorers for Balestier in the shootout.