SINGAPORE – Tampines Rovers coach Gavin Lee had urged his players to embrace the learning curve in their maiden Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign. On Thursday night (July 1), the Stags received their most brutal and unforgettable lesson yet after being thumped 9-0 by South Korean champions Jeonbuk Motors.

It was the heaviest defeat in their history – the previous one was a 8-2 loss to the now-defunct Singapore Armed Forces FC during the 2001 S-League campaign.

The match in Tashkent’s Lokomotiv Stadium was the Stags’ third in seven days and it brought a third successive loss.

But while the Singapore side impressed in the first two defeats by Japanese giants Gamba Osaka and Thai FA Cup champions Chiangrai United, the gulf in class between Jeonbuk and Tampines was apparent from the kick-off.

The South Koreans, who won the ACL in 2006 and 2016, were superior in every department and punished Tampines at almost every opportunity.

With an eye on their next few fixtures on Sunday (Jeonbuk), Wednesday (Osaka) and July 10 (Chiangrai), Lee opted to refresh his line-up from the one that lost 1-0 to Chiangrai on Monday. Apart from the experienced Daniel Bennett, 43, Lee also placed his faith in youth. Irfan Najeeb, 21, Amirul Haikal, 21, and Iman Hakim, 19, were in the starting line-up in place of Baihakki Khaizan, Irwan Shah, Marc Tan and Montenegrin forward Boris Kopitovic.

His young charges could not cope and there was little the elder statesmen in the team – Bennett and Madhu Mohana, 30 – could do to bail the team out.

Amirul, Madhu, Ryaan Sanizal, Bennett and Irfan, who formed a five-man backline in Uzbekistan, were each individually culpable for at least one goal.

Lee said: “It’s not the players’ fault. They gave their best but we saw the big gulf in quality between both sides. The result is on me.

“I won’t regret the decision (to field young players) because we have had to deal with fatigue and I have to use my squad. We will reflect on this result but I have no regrets on the team I put out.

“It’s a good eye opener in terms of the difference in levels between us and the best teams in Asia. But we need more matches at this level because the more we have it, the better we will become. The young players will definitely get better as well from this experience.”

Last modified: July 2, 2021