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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sports

Singapore Cup: Protectors aim to keep Cup at Home

The New Paper | Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Home United footballers celebrate winning the RHB Singapore Cup. They beat Tanjong Pagar United 4-1 in the final held at the Jalan Besar Stadium on 8 November 2013.

They were the first to successfully retain the RHB Singapore Cup in 2001 and remain as just one of two teams (the other was SAFFC in 2008) to have done so.

While they are still searching for their first S.League title since 2003, Home United have no such problems in the RHB Singapore Cup.

They made the final seven times and emerged victorious on six occasions, including last year's sweeping 4-1 win over Tanjong Pagar. Just what makes them such a strong cup team in this competition?

National defender Juma'at Jantan, who picked up a winners' medal in 2011 and 2013, told The New Paper: "This squad is mixed with young and experienced players but they are all special. All the young ones want to play to replace the older players.

"The depth of youngsters challenging us means we have to become better year after year.

"The club's philosophy of discipline, fitness and commitment is now in our youth and Prime League teams. They are all challenging to climb higher. This is what makes the club strong.

"In the last three games, we came back from a goal down to get a draw or a win.

"As a seasoned player, it's always special when you are in a team with fighting spirit. This is the never-say-die attitude I see in all the top teams in Europe. I can feel it growing in this club.

KNOCK-OUT SYSTEM

"The knock-out system of the Singapore Cup makes it a different ball game. In the first round, there are only 90 minutes and no second chance.

"The pressure this year is even more tremendous as we are defending the title. This is where we must showcase our strength as a team."

This year, Home United's journey seems like a walk into the unknown as they are in Pool B with seven foreign teams, from Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Japan and the Philippines.

On Friday, the Protectors will first take on 2013 Cambodian Hun Sen Cup winners Nagacorp FC.

Vice-captain Indra Sahdan said: "We don't know much about them but I believe the foreign teams are strong and we have a tough route ahead of us.

"Nevertheless we will remain optimistic and work hard for the end goal."

The 35-year-old has good cause to be buoyant.

He is one of the most bemedalled footballers in the competition, after winning the Singapore Cup four times with Home United (2001, 2003, 2005 and 2013).

"It's not an easy accomplishment, so it's a record I will cherish for the rest of my life," said Indra.

"I want to contribute in every game to get to the final and win the cup. I really feel I can contribute a lot more this year."

The national striker has extra motivation to repay the Bishan-based club as they not only resuscitated his career, but also stood by him even after he broke his leg while on international duty last September.

He added: "I am deeply indebted to this club. My career was revived by Coach (Lee Lim Saeng) when he plucked me out of the National Football League (Keppel Monaco) and helped me get back on my feet in the S.League and the national squad.

"Then I broke my leg last year. Not only did Home support me to recover and rehabilitate, but they also guaranteed my place in the club, even if I couldn't play any more last season. That removed every negative thought about my future.

GRATITUDE

"From then on, I told myself to repay my deepest gratitude to everyone at Bishan.

"This Cup will be a very special way to repay everyone - the club officials, thousands of fans who wished me well during my rehabilitation and of course, my entire family, who never gave up on me.

"To help the club win their seventh Singapore Cup this year, and the fifth one for me, will be a great story to tell all the younger players."

davidlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 26, 2014.
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