It was supposed to be a start of a new era of the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League, with the 2017 season-opener the first to be played at the new National Stadium.
But on the pitch, what happened was anything but. A total of three red cards were shown in the Community Shield match between Tampines Rovers and Albirex Niigata (S), which doubles up as a league match.
All three sending-offs in the second half were given to Tampines players, which saw them finish the game with just eight men on the field. Apart from that, referee Sukhbir Singh also chalked off what appeared to be a legitimate penalty from Tampines’ Ivan Dzoni in the second-half.
The decisions changed the course of the game, prompting chants of ‘referee kayu’ to be belted out by the 15,480 fans present in the stadium towards the end of the game.
A penalty reversal and three red cards
Everything had seemed to be going well for the Stags initially.
In a meek first half, they managed to take the lead with less than 10 minutes to go after Ryutaro Megumi headed in a cross from Ivan Dzoni. While Albirex had their fair share of chances, they failed to trouble goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud much.
But even they would not have envisaged their evening to turn sour so quickly in the second half.
The Stags were awared penalty in the 59th minute when defender Daniel Bennett was dragged down by Takuya Akiyama, and Dzoni put the ball into the top corner.
At 2-0, the game would have been put out of Albirex’s reach, but referee Sukhbir ordered for it to be retaken, much to the Tampines players’ bewilderment.
Dzoni eventually sent his retake against the post.
Shortly after, Yasir Hanapi was sent off for a second bookable offence with what appeared to be a very soft foul and things spiralled downwards for the Stags from there.
With the advantage in numbers, Albirex were able to put pressure on the Tampines defence that led to substitute Shoichiro Sakamoto twice in an eight-minute spell.
And while the Stags continued to chase for an equaliser, they had yet another player sent off. Sukhbir deemed Madhu Mohana’s challenge in the 89th minute as over the top, even though the Tampines centre-back had won the ball.
Then in injury time, Ismadi Mukhtar was shown the third red of the evening, despite him being nowhere near the ball, officials or any Albirex players.
Stags coach unhappy
The decisions understandably drew the ire of Tampines coach Juergen Raab.
While Raab refused to be drawn into commenting on the red cards until he can watch the replays, he felt that the decision made for the penalty to be retaken was a “wrong call”.
“Why this decision? We scored a goal, what was wrong? I’m not sure, I don’t understand,” Raab said at the post-match press conference.
“The side taking the penalty should have a benefit.”
Bennett went a step further, commenting that Sukhbir had “ruined the game”.
“He’s robbed us a goal. Had that gone in, it would have changed the game,” Bennett stated. “The fans saw everything, you can see how upset the fans were.”
While Albirex’s coach Yoshinaga Kazuaki agreed that the penalty decision certainly changed the course of the game, he felt that the red cards were justified.
“The red cards that the opponents got was a result of our attacking play,” Kazuaki said. “When we attack them, a lot of the defending players feel more stress, and that resulted in more fouls from them… This is football.”