Last Friday’s (7 October) 4-2 defeat to Albirex Niigata (S) sealed the destination of the 2022 Singapore Premier League (SPL) title and officially ended the Lion City Sailors’ term as defending champions of the league. 

Regardless of what happens in the final two matches of the season, the Sailors will finish second in the eight-team table. On paper, there appears little left to play for. 

But the bitter taste of a failed title defence has only served to give Luka Lalić’s men a stronger resolve to put things right – starting from Friday’s (14 October) away clash against Tanjong Pagar United. 

This game against the Jaguars and the season-closing home match against Young Lions a week later on 21 October will serve as preparation for a maiden Singapore Cup campaign – where the Sailors will look to end the 2022 season on a positive note. 

“It’s sad not to be able to retain the title because we’ve worked all year in trying to reach this objective and this feeling really hurts. But there’s no time to dwell on this disappointment and we have to look to the future,” said midfield star Diego Lopes. 

“We are going to focus on these next two games, get our spirits up for the Singapore Cup and we’re going to make sure we give a strong response in the competition. 

“We owe this to the fans and we have to make up for not winning the league.”  

Sailors interim Head Coach Luka shared Diego’s sentiments, affirming that he will put out a strong lineup against Hasrin Jailani’s side while moving to switch things up a bit. 

“I don’t look at this as the last two league games; I’m looking at this as a two-and-a-half week preparation for the Cup. We’re going to use these two matches as an extension of training to change a few things that we need to,” said the 35-year-old.  

“For sure, the best team will play as we want to put up good performances and get results. We’re in the same group as Balestier Khalsa and Albirex in the Cup – two teams that we owe some things to. That’s the message all across the team – we now have a path to redemption and we want to take this opportunity to show something for our fans.”

In a fit and recharged Diego, the Sailors have a lethal weapon to call upon and the silky playmaker is ready to lead the charge after marking his return from injury with a strong 90-minute display against Albirex last week. 

The 28-year-old Brazilian tends to do well against Tanjong Pagar, scoring three braces against the Jaguars in big-margin wins this year, and he is hoping to continue in the same vein. 

“I try to play every game in the same manner to help the team and somehow it works out better against Tanjong Pagar. Missing a couple of games through injury was tough for me, but now I’m back and I want to help the club win the Singapore Cup,” he said.

“We have to work hard as a team and get that winning feeling back, starting from this game against Tanjong Pagar.”