It was a tough ask for Tampines Rovers as they began their first game of the season against Indonesian champions Bali United in the AFC Champions League Preliminary round at the Jalan Besar Stadium, where 3,400 fans turned up.
Bali United were riding on a wave of confidence especially after clinching their first league title in history and this definitely showed against the Stags as they took the lead just under eight minutes, as striker Melvin Platje produced a sublime chip after Irwan Shah made a defensive error. Gavin Lee's charges were clearly rattled as the Indonesian outfit established dominance with captain Stefano Lillipaly orchestrating things from midfield.
Platje would soon add another for his side in the 13th minute to put his team 2-0 up as the gulf in quality in the opening stages of the game was telling. But Tampines were keen to alter proceedings and did exactly just that with most of their chances created through midfield star Zehrudin Mehmedovic.
Like Lilipaly, Mehmedovic's movement and passing began causing problems for Bali and in the 43rd-minute new signing Boris Kopitovic would soon get one back for the Stags to make it 2-1 before half-time. The second half would see the same narrative with Tampines in the ascendancy and Mehmedovic's killer pass to Jordan Webb in the 53rd split open the Bali defence for the Canadian to slot home the equaliser.
Mehmedovic wasn't just done yet and the Serb would provide another sublime pass in the 67th minute to Kopitovic, only for the former OFK Petrovac to square it to the oncoming Shah Shahiran, causing confusion in the penalty box resulting in Bali defender Rahmat Syamsuddin bundling the ball into his own net.
Last season's SPL (Singapore Premier League) runners-up were now leading 3-2 and looked to be heading for a win but their poor game management saw Bali equalise for the third time. After failing to extend their lead in the dying embers of the game, the Stags lost possession in Bali's penalty box which led to a swift counter-attack from the Liga 1 champions. Defender Rahmat would atone for his error with an expert finish to take the game into extra time.
Tampines would soon be punished in extra-time for failing to close out the game. Bali's talisman Lilipaly would score in the 100th minute to make it 4-3. Tampines' misery was compounded further when the impressive Mehmedovic lost possession in midfield to allow Sidik Saimima to score, taking the final scoreline to 5-3 - booking Bali's place against Melbourne Victory in the next round.