Akbar Nawas to fly Singapore flag as coach in first-foreign Cup final
Former Tampines Rovers coach Akbar Nawas will be Singapore's only representative in the 2017 Singapore Cup final after two foreign clubs won through to the domestic showcase match for the first time.
His Global-Cebu side, of Philippines, overcame Hougang United on Saturday night -- 2-1 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate -- to set up a date with holders Albirex Niigata (S), of Japan.
Overseas clubs were first allowed to participate in the Singapore Cup in 2003.
This is also a second successive Cup final for Akbar after facing Albirex with Tampines a year ago, falling to a 2-0 defeat in what was a final match in Singapore for ex-Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant.
In the semifinal, Global showed character to defeat Hougang after going down to 10 men in the second leg. The feat is all the more remarkable, with just 13 players at Akbar's disposal.
A host of players have left the club during the mid-season transfer window, while key men, like captain Misagh Bahadoran and defender Amani Aguinaldo, are out through injuries.
With Football Association of Singapore (FAS) not allowing foreign clubs to add more players to their original playing roster, Global could find themselves fielding fewer than eleven players for the Cup final.
"Now I have Dennis Villanueva suspended [due to the sending off] and Paul Mulders got two yellow cards [over two legs], so I have to check whether he's suspended," Akbar lamented.
"I could be down to 10 players to play for the cup final. So please write it down: the FAS have to look at this rule. It can't be one rule for the foreign clubs, and one rule for the local clubs.
"I'm relieved of course, with all the problems we had. We had a lack of players and they played so many games recently. To get the winning goal after going a man down showed great character and credit goes to the team."
Having served in Singapore football as Tampines coach and assistant boss as well as a staff coach for the Singapore age-group levels,
Akbar is hoping to get inside info to help Global become the first Philippines side to win the Singapore Cup.
"I'll be looking to my friends [fellow coaches] in other clubs, engage them and I'm sure they'll give me all the info," the 41-year-old said.
"But now we have to focus on the PFL (Philippines Football League). We're in third, and trying to stay in the top four to qualify for the playoffs."
Meanwhile, Hougang coach Philippe Aw cut a disappointed figure after his side failed in their preseason objective to win at least a trophy.
"The turning point came when Global had a man sent off," the 39-year-old said.
"I felt because of that, we felt that we got this and victory's ours for sure. That's a dangerous thought. Immediately we switched off and got punished.
"With 11 versus 11, we were in control. But once they were down to 10, we were just launching and hoping that something will fall. We were impatient and the final ball was disappointing.
However, the former Home United coach is adamant there is everything to play for, with five games remaining in the S.League, and a third-place playoff against Home in the Singapore Cup.
"We failed in our target to win a trophy, but we still have third place in the Cup to fight for," he insisted. "We're still looking at winning games and fourth in the S.League is a realistic target for us.
"What's clear is that players are fighting for their future, and we're looking to play those who show the most desire."
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