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Match Review: Eagles Pull Off Magical Victory Over White Swans

Photo credit: Football Association of Singapore

Geylang International fans, fronted by the Ultras Eagles, exited Jurong East Stadium after the final whistle with all smiles, after they watched their beloved team posted a 2-1 upset win over the formidable Albirex Niigata in their Singapore Cup Group A opener on Friday (September 30).

With the Eagles entering the domestic cup competition on the back of a disappointing league campaign, few expected the fallen Singaporean giants to snatch a positive result against the serial league and cup winners, especially at a ground which they had not won since May 3, 2010.

But the warriors in green stuck to Noor Ali's defensive game plan to perfection right from kick-off as they limited their Japanese opponents to only one shot on target throughout the first half.

The visitors were contended to sit back in their own half, soak the pressure and hit on a counter whenever the opportunity arose.

Geylang's tenacity was justly rewarded moments before the half-time break when Yushi Yamaya broke through the left flank with blistering pace, before striking the ball towards the far corner of Albirex goal.

Jubilant celebrations on the away stands quickly gave way to deep concern as the travelling supporters saw Yamaya clutch his ankle on the ground and signal to the bench that he could not further participate in the game.

With the losing of their star striker, the Geylang fans wondered whether their side could hold on to their slender lead. An all-out defensive strategy was thought to be in play for the second period.

However, their heroes had other ideas and put their noses further in front in the 51st minute when Naufal Azman, who just returned from his two-match suspension, broke though the White Swans backline and swiped the ball past Hassan Sunny with aplomb.

Facing a potential early exit from the tournament after collecting only a point from the previous fixture against Brunei DPMM, Albirex became desperate in hauling themselves back into the game, prompting coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga to pour his charges forward in search for goal.

On came former Southampton striker Tadanari Lee during one of the White Swans substitutions, and the 37-year-old handed his team a lifeline in the 75th minute when his header across goal from a set-piece was thumped home at the far post by central defender Shunsaku Kishimoto.

With the Eagles capable of self-destructing at times this season, it was a heart-to-mouth final 15 minutes for their long-suffering fans. Fortunately, they had stand-in goalie Rudy Khairullah to thank for, as he acrobatically denied every of his opponents' efforts, staking his claim in between the sticks for the remaining tourney.

While Geylang have passed their sternest test of Group A with flying colours, there is no let up of challenges for the 2009 cup winners as they will face Tampines Rovers, Brunei DPMM and Young Lions in the Group of Death, with the teams vying for a top-two spot to qualify for the semi-finals.

Man of the match: Rudy Khairullah - The backup shotstopper made key saves and withstood the relentless Albirex onslaught near the end of the match to secure a priceless win for Geylang.

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