Krajcek hat-trick helps Hougang beat Tampines 3-2 to win their first Singapore Cup
Croatian midfielder Kristijan Krajcek played the match of his life to score a marvellous hat-trick and help Hougang United beat defending champions Tampines Rovers 3-2 in the Singapore Cup final on Saturday.
His first career treble also helped the first-time finalists end 41 years of hurt as they lifted their first piece of silverware in club history, picked up a cheque for $50,000, and qualified for the AFC Cup.
In a free-flowing final that had fans at the Jalan Besar Stadium on the edge of their seats, Hougang had a dream start.
The Cheetahs took the lead in the 17th minute when Krajcek pickpocketed Yasir Hanapi and latched on to a delightful Pedro Bortoluzo backheel to fire past Syazwan Buhari.
But with their previous five meetings this season producing 26 goals, it was clear that wouldn’t be the end of the scoring.
Sure enough, defensive lapses allowed Tampines, who won the tournament in 2019 before it was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to score.
After winning the ball off Bortoluzo, Taufik Suparno ran unchallenged from his own half and fired the equaliser into the bottom corner in the 38th minute.
Two minutes after the restart, Yasir’s deep corner eluded everyone but Irfan Najeeb at the backpost and the defender was mobbed by teammates following his point-blank finish.
Naturally, Hougang heads started to droop, and Krajcek could be seen bellowing at teammate Farhan Zulkifli after possession was lost.
But the 29-year-old was clearly up for it and bent a beautiful curler into the top right corner in the 57th minute, ironically courtesy of a pass from Farhan.
Krajcek then settled the tie when he swept in a loose ball inside the box in the 78th minute to become the first player to record a Singapore Cup final hat-trick, and his team then held on resolutely, giving Tampines topscorer Boris Kopitovic no clear sniff of goal.
Self-deprecatingly, the Hougang Hools fan group would sing lustily and with good courage: “Silverware, we don’t care!”
But it was clear that the victory did matter to everyone associated with the club, as players and staff sank to their knees and several supporters sneaked onto the pitch before they were tackled by security personnel.
The fairytale finish had looked unlikely as they struggled with injuries and internal unrest during the Singapore Premier League season, and finished fifth in the eight-team competition.
First-choice goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin was ruled out mid-season due to medical reasons, while Japanese defender Kaishu Yamazaki was banished to the youth team because of disciplinary issues.
Head coach Clement Teo also stepped down because of health issues, but his assistant Firdaus Kassim stepped up admirably to mastermind the historic triumph.