|Photo: RHB Singapore Cup 2011|
Etoile FC clinched third place in the RHB Singapore Cup tournament after romping past surprise package Hougang United 3-0 in the playoff match at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Second-half goals from Franklin Anzite and Theo Raymond added the gloss to an early Kamel Chaaouane strike, ensuring that the French side went home the happier of the two.
A straightforward match this was not, however, with a fiery 90 minutes played out between both sides seeing three red cards dished out by referee Sukhbir Singh and a number of mass confrontations between both sets of players.
Memories of the unsavoury scenes that had played out between these two sides back in May were evoked, although this time the match was thankfully completed, to the relief of the fans.
The first expulsion came right before half-time, when Etoile winger Sirina Camara went in hard on Hougang midfielder Carlos Delgado.
It looked like an act of revenge for a similar Delgado challenge on Camara minutes ago, and like Delgado in the earlier instance, Camara was thus booked. In the midst of the heated face-off between both teams, though, Camara appeared to manhandle the referee, and was duly given a second yellow card.
The second dismissal came midway through the second half when Hougang centreback Shahril Alias went in late with a two-footed lunge on Etoile substitute Wilson Grosset.
The final one was probably the pick of the bunch, though, with Etoile goalscorer Chaaouane the culprit.
With just seconds left to the final whistle, Sobrie Mazelan’s constant hustling on the striker from behind in the middle of the park infuriated the latter, who turned around to produce a nasty stamp on Sobrie’s thigh, leaving the referee with no choice but to send him off.
That was not all, as the incident nearly sparked handbags among both sides before Chaaouane was eventually ushered off the pitch by a team official.
Other than the ejections, there were also scuffles between individual players, with Hougang skipper Mohd Noor Ali caught in the middle of the action on multiple occasions.
The 36-year-old, however, shrugged that off as part of the game.
“It’s always a physical game when playing against Etoile,” he commented with some relish.
“It’s good to play such teams as it gives you the competitiveness on the field. There’s a saying that rugby’s played by gentlemen and football is played by beasts, so there must be toughness shown on the field.”
As a football contest, though, Hougang were clearly left to rue their defending on set pieces and an injury suffered by key man Jordan Webb in the first half.
The first goal came just two and half minutes into the game, when Etoile forward Kevin Lefranc was brought down outside the box.
Maxime Belouet’s left-footed delivery created confusion in the Hougang penalty area, before it was untidily bundled home by Chaaouane past a stranded Fadhil Salim.
The Cheetahs did well to settle into the game despite the goal, with Mamadou Diallo initiating many of their attacking forays. The Guinean was the standout player for his team as he troubled the Etoile defence whole night with his pace and penetration.
He could even have put Hougang ahead, if he had taken advantage of a couple of scoring opportunities.
Robbing the ball from Etoile hard man Anzite eight minutes into the game, he proceeded to let fly from all of 30 yards, the shot going inches wide of Hadama Bathily’s right-hand post.
Three minutes later, he latched on well to a long ball to set up a one-on-one opportunity with Bathily, but the latter, standing in for the injured Antonin Trilles, foiled him quickly.
Diallo got a second bite of the cherry from an acute angle, but this time he was denied by a goal-line clearance from Jean-Charles Blanpin.
Those early moments justified the vote of confidence Aide Iskandar had given him, in resolving the headache of choosing between him and returning Brazilian Diego de Oliveira.
With Vitor Borges cup-tied after representing Balestier Khalsa earlier in this year’s competition, Hougang could only field three foreigners instead of the usual four.
“According to the rules, Vitor is the fourth (foreigner) and Diallo a Prime League player, so we can only field three foreigners,” explained the Hougang coach in the post-match press conference.
“Thus I had to make the decision between Diego and Diallo. Diallo was chosen because he’s much better in terms of match fitness, while Diego is still on the road to recovery and not 100 percent fit.”
Aide then admitted he had no choice but to haul Webb off early after the 23-year-old had hurt his foot, giving him no chance to redeem himself for a poor start in the game.
“Jordan got a metatarsal injury and he decided he could not carry on,” lamented the former Singapore skipper.
“That certainly ruined the plan for us, although we cannot fault the player that came on.”
The player in question was Sobrie, and once the half-time break came with Camara sent off, Aide had the chance he needed to plot a comeback with one man up.
The idea was shot to pieces seven minutes into the second half, however, as Hougang conceded the second goal from another set-piece.
After Raymond’s snap-shot just outside the box was parried away by Fadhil for a corner, Belouet’s precise delivery picked out not just the head of Anzite, but also the deficiencies of the Cheetahs backline. With only Faizal Amir at the post, the Central African Republic international rose unmarked to arrow the ball past Fadhil.
For all their defensive frailties, Hougang could not be faulted for not trying, as they created another couple of opportunities before the killer third goal arrived.
The ever-energetic Diallo forced the Etoile backline to lose the ball en route to an opening for winger Basit Abdul Hamid just inside the box, but the curling effort was brilliantly tipped over by Bathily.
Diallo went it alone minutes later when he cut inside his man and shot just wide of the left-hand post.
However, their hopes of a miraculous comeback were dashed on 65 minutes when their numerical advantage was erased by Shahril’s sending-off. That opened up gaping holes in the Hougang defence for the Etoile attack to exploit, and Aide prepared Ratna Suffian to come on to shore up the backline.
Before the change could be made, though, the men in orange were already paying the price.
A low centre by Grosset created space for Chaaouane to turn his marker well in the box before setting up Raymond for a simple tap-in at the far post.
Hougang still had chances towards the end, with Noor Ali twice going through on goal, but the veteran failed to seize both opportunities.
Etoile also joined in the ‘fun’, with Chaaouane missing a sitter from nothing more than three yards out.
A fiery match like this would not end without another talking point, though, and that came in injury time with the Stars No.17’s rush of blood to the head that sparked ugly scenes and eventually some awkward post-match handshakes between the players, with the score set at 3-0.
“It was definitely not the result we wanted, but looking at our overall performance, we did quite well for most parts of the game,” commented Aide in summary.
“It was all about which team was able to finish the chances, and tonight that honour belongs to Etoile.”
“I don’t think we deserve to lose 0-3,” echoed Noor Ali.
“Hougang always play good football, our boys have good fighting spirit and have come back a lot of times this season. We had chances to do so again today but just didn’t convert; the third goal was the killer.”
Meanwhile Etoile coach Guglielmo Arena, attending a separate interview, wore a look of satisfaction.
“The players are tired towards the end of the season, but it was a good overall performance,” he said, speaking through team manager Sebastien Corominas.
“We prepared very well for this match and did not let Hougang play to their qualities. In the end our good team spirit made the difference.”
He was however obviously sarcastic when asked of the dismissals given to Camara and especially Chaaouane.
“We’re quite happy to receive only two red cards! We could have finished without any, but we knew we would get red cards once we saw who the referee was.” - (SOURCE)