The Lion City Sailors’ hopes of qualifying for next season’s Asian Champions League (ACL) suffered a blow last evening (Nov 29), despite a 4-0 win over the Young Lions in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).

With Tampines Rovers beating Albirex Niigata (S) 4-1 in last night’s other SPL match, the Sailors are now third in the eight-team standings, on 23 points, four behind league leaders, Tampines Rovers, with just two games to play. 

The Sailors will now not only have to beat Tampines on Wednesday (Dec 2), but also hope that the Stags drop points against Geylang International in their last match of the campaign on Saturday (Dec 5) in order to qualify for next season’s ACL. And that is also provided the Sailors win their final SPL game against Balestier Khalsa.

In short, the Sailors’ ACL dream hangs by a thread at the moment, but head coach Aurelio Vidmar is not giving up the fight just yet.

“The (Albirex vs Tampines) result didn’t go our way,” Aurelio admitted. “But we have to fight to the very last game – that’s my message to the players. We have a big match against Tampines coming up that we absolutely have to win, because you don’t know what’s going to happen after that.

“Football is funny and anything can happen, so we can’t give up. Right now, we’ll just have to get ready for what I think will probably be one of the games of the season on Wednesday. We’ve done a very good job up to this point, and we’ll have to keep fighting and doing our very best till the end of the season.”

While the result of the game between Albirex and Tampines may not have been beneficial for the Sailors, Aurelio’s charges held up their end of the bargain at the Jurong West Stadium, running out 4-0 winners over the Young Lions.

Two goals from Arshad Shamim, along with a penalty from Song Ui-Young and Gabriel Quak’s second-half strike, helped the Sailors get all three points against a spirited Young Lions side.

Indeed, the Young Lions nearly took the lead several times in the first-half, but they were just unable to find a way past Sailors goalkeeper Hassan Sunny. The one time they did, through Ilhan Fandi’s effort from the edge of the box, the woodwork came to the Sailors’ rescue.

Acknowledging the Sailors’ slow start to the game, Aurelio said: “The first half was very difficult for us because they (Young Lions) were organised reasonably well, nice and compact, and didn’t give us too much space. But our intensity also wasn’t at the level where it has been in the past. So, we suffered quite a bit in those first 20, 25 minutes.”

Midfielder Arshad, however, then stepped up for the Sailors with a poacher’s goal in the 34th minute, as he instinctively got a touch on Shahril Ishak’s header to redirect the ball past Young Lions custodian Ridhwan Fikri.

The 21-year-old then got in behind the Young Lions’ defence again in the 40th minute, forcing Ridhwan into conceding a penalty that Song confidently dispatched.

Arshad got his second on the night in the 55th minute as he timed his run perfectly to meet Gabriel’s right wing cross. That proved to be his last meaningful contribution in the game, as he was brought off two minutes later for Adam Swandi. 

The in-form Gabriel then put the icing on the cake for the Sailors in the 73rd minute with a composed finish from Hafiz Nor’s cutback.

Arshad’s mature performance drew praise from Aurelio, who hailed the youngster’s innate ability to get into threatening positions in the final third.

“Arshad was very good for us tonight. He was always a threat being on the last line of defenders and making some great runs in behind the defence,” said Aurelio. “A lot of the times the ball didn’t get to him in those positions, but he was always in the box at the important moments, and that’s how he got his goals and won the penalty.”