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Match Preview: Eagles' Dream for Continental Football Hanging by a Thread

Photo credit: Idi Bakhtiar

The Eastern derby this Saturday (October 1) would make or break Geylang International's quest for AFC Cup qualification next season.

After suffering a disappointing loss to Hougang United in the previous fixture, the fourth-placed side have fallen seven points behind Tampines Rovers, who occupy the coveted third spot that guarantees a place in Asia's second-tier competition.

A defeat to their cross-town rivals at Our Tampines Hub means it would be mathematically impossible to overhaul a 10-point deficit with three games remaining.

To reinvigorate their fading hopes of playing on the continental stage, the Eagles have to vastly improve from that forgettable second-half performance against the Cheetahs, which saw the Eastern club throw away an advantageous position.

Though missing a couple of regulars in that encounter, Geylang International seemed to have coped in their absence as they raced to a two-goal lead inside the first 36 minutes.

But as the game progressed, the Eagles - compounded by a thin squad depth - went out of steam and faltered in the face of their opponents' relentless assaults.

Possibly feeling the pressure from that heartbreaking defeat which jeopardised Geylang International's chance of playing in Asia, head coach Noor Ali soon experienced heart palpitations and was warded the following day.

With the gaffer's hospitalisation putting a spanner to the Eagles' preparation against a high-flying Albirex Niigata in five days' time, the club unexpectedly earned a respite when the fixture was postponed as a mark of respect for late Football Association of Singapore President Lim Kia Tong.

The ensuing three-week league break had allowed the coaching staff to support the players in their recovery from that harrowing loss and bring key personnel like Sime Zuzul and Huzaifah Aziz back to full fitness.

Morale on the training ground was further lifted as Noor was given the medical clearance to resume his coaching duties.

But the rescheduling of league fixtures still throws up a difficult proposition for the beleagured club to rediscover their winning ways, given the strong form their upcoming opponents are in.

The Stags are not only on a roll with four wins on the trot - which have placed them in pole position for the top-three finish - but they also boast a goal machine in the form of Boris Kopitovic, who leads the league's goalscoring charts with 29 goals.

With Geylang International facing seemingly insurmountable odds and potentially losing their grip on continental qualification, Noor's charges would want to put up a spirited fight that their stricken boss would be proud of.

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