Wounded Home United prepare for Brunei DPMM in Singapore Cup QF
After being knocked out of the AFC Cup, Home United will turn their attentions to the Singapore Cup when they take on Brunei DPMM in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday night.
The Protectors suffered a disappointing 2-0 midweek defeat in Bacolod City to lose the AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final 3-2 on aggregate to Ceres-Negros, leaving the S.League and the Singapore Cup as the only trophies they can win this season.
The result also meant Aidil Sharin's side have won just once in their last six outings, but midfielder Aqhari Abdullah remains unperturbed as they head into the business end of the season.
"There's a lot of positives that we can take from the two games [against Ceres]," said the 26-year-old told ESPN FC. "We're definitely sad and disappointed not to win the final, but that doesn't mean we're done.
"It means we're only going to get stronger as a team and for any team to beat us from now will be quite difficult. We have senior players like Hariss [Harun], Hassan [Sunny] and Juma'at Jantan who always encourage the boys and give positive talks, so we'll definitely bounce back.
"We've been working hard and have grown so much on each other this season. They key for us is to stick together, and hopefully we'll win the remaining games we have."
Home have beaten DPMM in two head-to-head encounters this season, triumphing 3-1 in Bandar Seri Begawan in March, and 9-3 at Bishan in May. But Aqhari refuses to take progression into the last four of the Singapore Cup for granted.
"It'll not be easy for us because the schedule is not on our side," he explained. "There are tired players, and some are still carrying knocks. It's going to be quite tough for us to be at 100 percent, but we'll definitely give our best and do what we can."
The quarterfinal has been made a whole lot trickier with the return of Rafael Ramazotti into the DPMM fray.
The towering Brazilian front man, who won the Golden Boot for the last two seasons with returns of 21 and 20 goals, has recovered from a ligament tear that saw him miss the Wasps' last eight games in all competitions.
It is a welcome boost for Steve Kean's side, who have been struggling to put away their chances this season.
Just 10 goals in 13 league games tells the tale, with only seventh-placed Balestier Khalsa and bottom side Garena Young Lions recording fewer.
Ramazotti, whose last game was coincidentally against Home in that chastening 9-3 defeat on May 25, simply cannot wait to get back into action.
"It's very frustrating and difficult for two reasons. First, because I've never been out for such a long time in 12 years of professional football -- almost three months," the 28-year-old said.
"Usually I'm out for only a week or 10 days at most. Also, the injury was sustained in training and not during a game. Second, I couldn't help my teammates while we're going through a difficult time.
"All these things are in the past now. Now I just hope we can recover our confidence and finish the season strongly. We're practically the same team that was S.League champions in 2015, S.League and League Cup runners-up in 2016, so I believe we have what it takes to bounce back."
With the Singapore Cup the only trophy that has eluded them since their introduction into Singapore football in 2009, DPMM have the chance to set the record straight this season.
"It's very important for us since we have not won this trophy before," said Ramazotti. "But before we can think about it, we got to think about every game, step by step and day by day.
"That's what we aim to do till the end, keep working hard and give our 100 percent. Once we start regaining our confidence, the results will follow."
Kenneth Tan is a Singapore-based football writer on S.League and AFC Cup for ESPN FC and FourFourTwo. Twitter: @KennerveT