Yishun Sentek Mariners FC were crowned champions of the 2019 National Football League (NFL) Challenge Cup on Sunday night after a 3-2 win over Tiong Bahru FC.
Played between last season’s NFL Division One champions Tiong Bahru and FA Cup winners Mariners, the thriller at Jalan Besar Stadium served as the season-opener for this year’s NFL.
Introduced by the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) last year to provide higher competitive value to the league and create greater excitement in the opening of the NFL, the Challenge Cup doubled up as the opening match of the 2019 NFL Division One.
The Mariners, who won the inaugural Challenge Cup, broke the deadlock through Zulkifli Suzliman’s tap-in on 12 minutes but were pegged back through Liam Shotton’s equaliser six minutes later.
Azhar Sairudin restored their lead with a penalty on 28 minutes and Ridho Jafri extended the advantage with a precise strike on 57 minutes, which turned out to be the winning goal despite Hazim Faiz’s 83rd-minute strike ensuring a grandstand finish.
The Challenge Cup was presented by Dr Dinesh Nair, chairperson of the FAS Medical Committee, to Mariners captain Shahir Hamzah to cap off the night.
Mariners head coach Hairi Su’ap was pleased with his team’s attacking display and declared their title ambitions, having finished fourth last season after winning their first league crown the year before.
“That’s how we want to play in this league,” he said. “We have added experienced players to form a stronger squad for 2019 and this Challenge Cup win says to the rest of the teams that we want to get back to being champions (this year).”
His counterpart, Robert Eziakor, vowed that Tiong Bahru will come back stronger.
“By the time we started to play (our game), it was too late but we could have equalised,” he said. “I think we would have deserved it but for me, we are not there yet; we will go back to the drawing board and refine our weaknesses and work very hard.”
The NFL Division Two will kick off on Sunday, 24 March 2019. The fixtures for NFL Division One and Two are available on the FAS website.