top of page

Singapore Cup Final 2022: Krajcek hat-trick ends Hougang United's 24-year trophy drought

3-2 Singapore Cup Final victory over Stags books Cheetah's berth in 2023 AFC Cup group stages

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Singapore, 19 November 2022 - In a tightly-contested final at Jalan Besar Stadium, Hougang United won the Singapore Cup – their first trophy in their 24-year history – by defeating defending champions Tampines Rovers 3-2 on Saturday evening.


Kristijian Krajcek's first career hat-trick ensured the Cheetahs dramatically ended their 24-year wait for major honours.


After netting his second goal of the evening, the Croat unveiled a shirt with the face of his late younger brother, Dario, who passed on ten years ago.


More action photos from the 2022 Singapore Cup Final available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


"I kept this shirt for four years in my closet. I dedicated this game for him (Dario). I believe he gave me the power for this game," Krajcek explained.


Assistant head coach Firdaus Kassim attributed his side's cup success to stability.


"The target has always been to qualify for the AFC Cup, and to do it this way is so much more meaningful. This club should exist for trophies. The players kept believing and trying. I am very, very delighted for the club and our players," he said.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


With the victory, Hougang booked their place in the 2023 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup group stages at the expense of Tampines.


The Singapore Cup, which commenced in 1998, resumed this year following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, and was last won by Tampines in 2019.


Defeat for four-time champions Tampines not only meant they failed to defend their title. The Stags now hold an unwanted record of most runners-up finishes (five) in Singapore Cup history.


More action photos from the 2022 Singapore Cup Final available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Hougang fielded the same eleven that stunned league champions Albirex Niigata (S) in the semi-finals, but assistant head coach Firdaus Kassim – stepping in for head coach Clement Teo who was absent due to medical reasons – opted for the experience of Zainol Gulam ahead of Aizil Yazid in goal.


After resting key players – including top scorer Boris Kopitovic midweek – head coach Gavin Lee reverted to the lineup that trounced Balestier Khalsa 8-1 in the semi-final’s first leg, with the exception of Ryaan Sanizal replacing Andrew Aw in defence.


Tampines’ starting eleven featured five under-23 players, including the likes of Amirul Haikal, Ong Yu En and Joel Chew.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Many were playing in their first Singapore cup final, and Tampines’ nerves showed early on through their hesitance on the ball as Hougang piled on pressure from the starting whistle.


Hougang were duly rewarded in the 18th minute, after midfielder Kristijian Krajcek anticipated a weak pass from Ong Yu En and nipped the ball from Stags’ captain Yasir Hanapi at the centre of the pitch.


With an intelligent first-time backheel, Hougang forward Pedro Bortoluzo found Krajcek who made no mistake in a one-versus-one situation just inside the penalty box.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Gradually growing into the game, Tampines responded in spectacular fashion.


Just six minutes before half-time, Tampines’ Taufik Suparno won the ball off Bortoluzo close to the halfway line. The 27-year-old confidently strode forward before unleashing a long-range piledriver into the bottom corner past an outstretched Zainol Gulam.


Controversy struck thereafter when Gulam appeared to have intentionally touched the ball during a goal kick, but when an opportunistic Kopitovic tried to play the ball, referee Ahmad A’Qashah signalled for a goal kick.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


After the restart, Suparno continued to cause problems for the Hougang defence and forced a smart stop from Zainol Gulam after a mazy run.


From the resulting corner, a perfectly-whipped cross from captain Yasir Hanapi was met by unmarked defender Irfan Najeeb at the back post to give Tampines the lead.


With the Stags on the ascendency, it took a moment of brilliance from the ever-dependable Krajcek to draw Hougang level on the 57th minute mark.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Receiving the ball on the left edge of the penalty box, the Croat unleashed an unstoppable curled effort that was destined for the top corner once it left his boot.


The final half hour saw end-to-end attacking action as both sides pushed for a winner, but it was Hougang who got the breakthrough in the 79th minute.


Receiving a cut-back from teammate Shawal Anuar, Krajcek completed his hat-trick by rifling a half-volley from the penalty spot, leaving Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari rooted to the spot.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Tampines threw every man forward in search of an equaliser, but the Cheetahs chased down every loose ball and defended resolutely to secure the victory.


Stags head coach Gavin Lee said his players should not let the result of one game define their entire season.


"It means a lot to us because this team has been through a lot. We were under a lot of pressure this year but the team trusted each other and stuck together. The consequence was the (positive) way we finished the season. That's why the players were devastated because everyone really wanted it (to win the cup)," he said.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


"This loss has kickstarted our 2023 campaign. For a lot of the young players, this was their first taste of a high-pressure situation. You look at the way Ong (Yu En), Joel (Chew) played, Ryaan (Sanizal), Irfan (Najeeb), and Amirul (Haikal). 'Wow'. The future is bright. Knowing the players, they will use the experience in a very positive way next season," he added.


Coach Firdaus Kassim spoke about Hougang's shift from a possession-based system to a more direct style of play towards the end of the season.


"We only played three or four games at the start of the season - the way we wanted to play. We needed to know when to adapt and continue the way we want to play. If we believed that we had the time, I am very sure that we would have been successful," he said.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


"We needed six, seven, eight months to see the end-product but a club like Hougang should be challenging for the title and cups. If we waited that long, we would have lost out. So we had to change the way we played, to be more direct just to get results."


"Moving forward, we still want to play an attacking brand of football, but myself as a coach I learnt that there has to be a time where I have to adapt," coach Firdaus added.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


The last time Hougang reached a cup final in 2011, they fell on penalties to Albirex Niigata (S) in the League Cup final.


Before today’s triumph, Hougang were the only remaining team in the Singapore Premier League without a major trophy to their name.


More action photos from the 2022 Singapore Cup Final available in our photo gallery here.


Comments


bottom of page