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Capital Square Partners and Aegis/StarTek: A complimentary merger

This was a 2,000-word feature for AVCJ focusing on a Singapore-headquartered PE firm’s attempts to merge and find synergies between two companies in the world of customer care centers

Capital Square Partners’ acquisition of Indian business processing outsourcing (BPO) player Aegis ultimately helped two different companies find global relevance after a turbulent and disruptive decade

Three years ago, Sanjay Chakrabarty, a managing director at Capital Square Partners, was considering ways to restore Indian business processing (BPO) player Aegis to tis former glory. He opted for a reverse merger with a US-listed company – a tricky move but one that appears to have paid off.

At the start of the previous decade, Aegis – then a division of domestic oil-to-steel conglomerate Essar Group – operated 56 call centers in 13 countries. Mounting debt at the parent company level, however, resulted in the sale of Aegis’ operations in the US and the Philippines to Teleperformance, the France-headquartered industry leader.

Profit margins subsequently fell as rising competition and falling demand meant the key markets of Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and India failed to make up for the loss of the lucrative and higher revenue-generating US market. In 2017, Capital Square, a Singapore-based private equity firm, offered to take out Essar in full. It paid $270-300 million for the business and soon began positioning it as a suitable acquisition target for a US peer.

“Executing back-to-back acquisitions is not easy,” Chakrabarty says. “Doing a control transaction and merging two companies requires the ability to understand multiple dimensions of a company – its organizational culture, regulatory requirements, and market mechanics.”

Know your target
It helped that Capital Square had earlier experienced a similar process. A year earlier, working in conjunction with CX Partners, it completed a $420 million exit from Minacs Group, which was also the former division of an Indian conglomerate. The buyer was US-based BPO provider Convergys. As a result, the private equity firm built up an understanding of the US BPO landscape and it knew which companies were interested in M&A opportunities.

Capital Square identified StarTek, a Denver-headquartered business that traded on the New York Stock Exchange, as its buyer of choice. Prior to 2017, StarTek had posted losses for is straight years. Three of the four leading US telecom carriers were its customers, together accounting for over 50% of revenue. The rise of interactive voice response (IVR) solutions and customer care apps, however, meant call centers were becoming less popular. The proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, the country’s third and fourth largest carriers, was set to further jeopardize the company’s future.

The challenge facing StarTek was easy to grasp but difficult to address: It needed to become more than a BPO provider to stay relevant to US clients.

Capital Square presented a vision – a merger that could lead to the eventual creation of a globally competitive brand – that appealed to the company’s majority shareholder. This led to StarTek acquiring Aegis in a cash-and-stock transaction with Capital Square taking a 55% interest in the new entity.

As the result of the merger, StarTek’s international operations have grown substantially. Telecom carriers now contribute less than two-fifths of revenue. Meanwhile, the company that used to be Aegis – now able to bill clients from the higher revenue generating markets in North America – has a more secure future. “Started brought the US and Philippines market presence [back for Aegis]. It also brought significant new growth opportunities in e-commerce. StarTek previously had a large customer engagement with a leading e-commerce player,” says Chakrabarty.

The numbers back up the investment thesis two years on. Before the merger, Aegis generated $400 million in annual revenue from 47 call centers in 10 countries. As part of Started, pro forma revenue for 2019 reached $657.9 million, with 49 call centers in 13 countries. In the most recent quarter, StarTek posted record gross quarterly profits of $27.6 million, chiefly due to the creation of a leaner unit. Headcount across the two companies have been reduced by 6,500.

The unification came at an appropriate time as well. Less than three months after the event, Teleperformance, which has 460 call centers globally, entered the Indian market by acquiring Intelenet from the Blackstone Group. In the same year, Concentrix acquired Convergys to create the second-biggest player in the US. In both their primary markets, StarTek and Aegis might have struggled had they continued on their own.

For the stakeholders of what used to be Aegis, the association with an entity listed on the New York Stock Exchange brings with it other tangible benefits such as a repetitional boost, a perception of improved transparency and a brand with a longer legacy.

Following the removal of the CEOs at both companies, Started initially brought in Lance Rosenzweig, Aegis’ former point man for the US, to lead the management team. Capital Square then recruited a CFO who had previously worked with them at Minacs and appointed Aparup Sengupta, an operating partner at the private equity firm, as chairman of the board. As CEO of Aegis in the first decade of the millennium, Sengupta is credited with turning the company into a globally competitive player.

After outlining the vision, Capital Square tasked Rosenzweig, and a management team comprising executives from both companies, with establishing global service delivery capabilities and global sales teams. The objective was to show clients that they were now being served by an improved operation that offered nearshore, onshore and offshore call center capabilities. StarTek now provides customer care services across time zones in Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North America.

“There are inherent benefits to being a global partner. For example, StarTek primarily delivered services in Spanish and English. With Aegis, it is now capable of delivering services to customers in more than 20 different languages,” Chakrabarty says.

Global mandate
After making sure the right people were in charge in the US, Capital Square then turned its attention to the overseas operations. Rajiv Ahuja was duly hired as global COO of StarTek last year. Over a 40-year long career, Ahuja claims to have been part of 18 acquisitions. Integrating disparate international operations and settling nerves has become an all-too familiar task. It also helps that he’s familiar with the non-US operation having earlier built much of it himself at Aegis a decade back.

“I built and sold Aegis’ Philippine operation to Teleperformance. I was very familiar with half of the new company. I think I played an instrumental role in building what was Aegis [outside India],” he says.

While Ahuja was not at the company at the time of the merger, his assessment upon arrival was that Capital Square had opted for a mature and patient approach as the financial owner of two companies with very different cultural backgrounds. “Either you buy into the ‘big bang’ theory and you put together a team that is going to address the integration challenges across the three broad domains – people, process and technology – or you wait for the dust to settle,” he says. “When I talk to my global teams, a large amount of the insecurity that a workforce typically endures [post-merger] is not there”

Earlier in the year, Sengupta was promoted to CEO after Rosenzweig opted to leave. The GP had earlier agreed that Rosenzweig would only stay for an interim period after meeting ana agreed set of objectives. It was only towards the middle of 2019 that the two companies began operations under the unified StarTek brand, Ahuja says.

However, merely having a global presence may not be enough to safeguard StarTek’s future. Some bullish technology start-ups believe a post-call center world might not even involve a human picking up the phone. Skand Bhargava, a practice director at Everest Group, says clients are also critically evaluating service providers by looking at whether they offer digital solutions as well as call center capabilities. “Scale continues to be important in this industry to drive better margins and deliver economies of scale but it’s also about building adjacent capabilities,” he says.

In particular, many BPO firms are investing in digitalizing back-end operations by employing agent-assisting software solutions that improve analytics and visualization capabilities. If they can speed up the phone call experience for both the employee and the user alike, there are contracts to be won.

Purely focusing on “butts on seats” as the industry’s long-preferred metric is expected to go out of fashion. Ahuja states StarTek is aware of such trends, but he believes there will always be a need for effective human-centered customer service especially as newer industries emerge that can replace falling demand from telecom firms. The in-house view is that customer service will become a lot more technical, involving helping customers deal with problems such as interacting with apps or solving other complex issues beyond bill payments.

Investments in such capabilities can now be made given StarTek’s emergence as more than just a regional player. “With the capability of a much larger scaled organization, we can invest in newer areas such as digital [customer service] that is increasingly a requirement,” Chakrabarty says.

For now, though, Ahuja’s main task involves finalizing the global integration plans. To that end, StarTek appointed a new chief technology officer and global head of sales after Ahuja’s appointment.

With the coronavirus pandemic muting investor sentiment across markets, the call center operator’s stock does not have a positive outlook for the near term. As of March 30, StarTek’s shares closed at $4.05. On the day of the merger, it reached $6.81. Even if the stock were trading higher, Capital Square would not be tempted to sell, arguing that it is too early to be considering an exit. Owning a listed asset, though, does give the firm several options that private equity owners seldom obtain so early.

For the time being, the GP is focused on cost and market synergies that have yet to be fully realized. According to its 2019 annual report, StarTek earned $13.4 million per facility based on the pro forma revenue calculation that combines sales figures from Aegis and StarTek centers. This compares favorably to EUR11.6 million ($12.7 million) per facility earned by Teleperformance, but it’s lower than the Concentrix figure of $17.1 million.

Consolidation continues
Nevertheless, StarTek is in a favorable position in an industry where consolidation is expected to continue. With the company’s five largest call center competitors capturing less than 20% of the market, the pace of vertical mergers will quicken, Bhargava says. Later in the year, Synnex, the parent company of Concentrix, plans to list the business, which will bring back attention to the industry.

For Capital Square’s Chakrabarty, the back-to-back deals also demonstrate that Asian private equity firms can go beyond providing growth capital and execute complex transactions. Not only did Capital Square recognize the right deal-making opportunity early on, the GP formulated and carried out a multi-year plan by leveraging its experience, network and financial acumen. “Everybody talks about operational leverage but when you translate it, it really comes down to whether you are able to operate in a seamless fashion in multiple markets,” he says.

By doing so, Capital Square believes it has placed StarTek in a good position for the fourth decade of its existence. “There is opportunity for consolidation [in the BPO sector] and we have contributed to that consolidation,” Chakrabarty adds. “While it is a fragmented market, the number of companies that can do it on a global scale are not that many.”

DSG Consumer Partners: Fine wine

This was a 2,000-word feature for AVCJ focusing on Singapore-headquartered VC firm DSG Consumer Partners that specializes in backing promising Indian consumer brands.

A relentless curiosity about the Indian consumer’s journey has helped DSG Consumer Partners carve out a niche in the early stage investment space for companies with emerging local brands 

Deepak Shahdadpuri, co-founder and managing director of DSG Consumer Partners, likes to consider a fledgling brand’s potential well beyond the horizon envisioned by the entrepreneur. “He thinks where this product or business would be 10 years from now,” says Rohan Mirchandani, co-founder of India-based Drums Food International. “Building a brand can unlock some serious value over time but it won’t happen overnight. He has the vision and knows that it’s going to take time.”

Mirchandani has experienced that foresight firsthand. He was running an ice-cream brand when he first met Shahdadpuri. The latter was not bullish on the prospects for the business but was much more excited about another idea Mirchandani was mulling – fresh Greek yogurt. Drums Food duly changed tack, and in 2016, received INR 445 million ($6.2 million) in Series A funding from DSG. Verlinvest, an investment rm established by the founding families of Anheuser-Busch InBev, and an LP in DSG’s second fund, came in as a co-investor.

Shadadpuri’s instincts turned out to be correct. Drums Food now sells four million cups of Greek yogurt every month under the Epigamia brand, and has received financial support and celebrity endorsement from Deepika Padukone, a leading Bollywood actress. Last year, Drums Food closed a $25 million Series C round, led by Verlinvest and featuring Danone Manifesto Ventures, the corporate VC arm of the French conglomerate.

As one of few India-focused investors that has supported – over multiple decades – entrepreneurs seeking to build premium yet localized brands targeting consumers in urban markets, Shahdadpuri’s reputation often precedes him. This has made DSG a sought-after partner for seed and early stage rounds, in the expectation that not only capital will be provided, but also mentorship intended to fast-track growth.

Sula shines

Shahdadpuri was among the first investors in the nascent consumer-centric venture capital community. The decision to back Sula Vineyards, India’s leading wine producer, in 2004 is often cited in common circles as an example of his prescient yet contrarian investment approach. “The lesson from Sula was the opportunity is very real,” says Shahdadpuri. “It is not impossible for a new unknown brand in a category which is not traditionally Indian to start, build and become a market leader.”

Back then, Shahdadpuri, a former Bain & Company consultant in London, was managing GEM India after a stint with Reuters Venture Capital – the latter role began in 2000 leading to the serendipitous opportunity to invest in India although he was tasked with studying technology. It was with GEM India that Shahdadpuri spotted an opportunity to invest in the less competitive non-tech consumer segment where founder-entrepreneurs had little venture capital support.

“It was a small fund – $16 million – focused on backing young consumer brands,” Shahdadpuri says. “From that portfolio, we invested in Sula Wines, Saffronart, Cleartrip, Baker’s Circle and Capco, all of which turned out pretty well.”

After a six-year period with Beacon India, a mid-market buyout fund, Shahdadpuri opted to get back to doing what he enjoyed best – investing in early stage opportunities in the consumer sector. Launching DSG in 2013, he deliberately chose the word “consumer,” marking himself out as a sector-specific fund manager as he believed there were enough opportunities for a diversified investment portfolio.

Even though the opportunities were there, it was difficult raising capital because LPs were wary of such a focused thesis. Fund I closed at just $12 million, with another $13 million raised later through co-investments. Success came quickly through Mswipe, a point-of-sale solutions provider, ZipDial, a missed call-based marketing tool acquired by Twitter, and Oravel Stays, a branded hotel manager now known as Oyo Rooms. Fund I has so far delivered distributions to paid-in (DPI) of 3.7x, with three full exits and two partial exits. The total value to paid-in (TVPI) is 9.8x. Further exits are said to be in the pipeline.

“Fund I has multiple hits. It must be one of the all-time greats and has to go down in the hall of fame somewhere,” says ArjunAnand, a principal at Verlinvest. The firm was sufficiently impressed to anchor DSG’s second fund, which closed at $50 million in 2017. This followed The Everstone Group’s acquisition of a 50% stake in DSG, which included an agreement to provide back office facilities to Shahdadpuri’s three-person team.

Adding value

Noting the lack of players investing in consumer ventures, Verlinvest felt confident in Shahdadpuri’s ability to pick greenfield businesses having participated in Sula’s later stage rounds. It pitches in growth capital when checks exceed DSG’s self-imposed $1-2 million cap. One such opportunity involved Veeba Foods, a manufacturer of indigenous condiments that now supplies quick-service restaurants like KFC, Pizza Hut and Domino’s.

“If I have one piece of advice to give you – I don’t know how but please convince Deepak Shahdadpuri at DSG to give you money,” Viraj Bahl, Veeba’s co-founder, told a roomful of aspiring entrepreneurs last year. “If you can, you will be doing yourself the biggest favor.”

The mild-mannered Bahl is effusive in his praise for the minority investor because he says he appreciates Shahdadpuri’s founder-centric attitude. Shahdadpuri brought Verlinvest to the cap table during a credit crunch yet the capital was provided at a fair valuation, Bahl says. He also claims to have bene ted over the years from Shahdadpuri’s business-savvy counsel.

“I think there’s really nobody who understands the nuances of an early stage company as well,” adds Drums Foods’ Mirchandani in agreement. He adds that, on numerous occasions, a quick phone call to Shahdadpuri’s has resulted into operational assistance sourced through his strong networks encompassing more than portfolio companies.

While the founder’s influence still looms large over DSG, the firm is not a one-man team. Last year, Hariharan Premkumar, formerly of Peepul Capital, was brought in as head of the India office. Much like Shahdadpuri, Premkumar was at a mid-market buyout fund earlier in his career and finds seed investing a refreshing challenge. He notes that DSG’s reputation and referrals from founders make for a ready source of deal flow but the rising number of players in the same field means they now actively study a “white space” map – consumer categories that do not yet have a clear leader.

The team of seven analyzes emerging business models in the US, Australia, UK and Singapore, seeking to replicate success stories in India by finding suitable founders. Investments are often at the pre-seed level. “It definitely helps us from a sourcing standpoint. That’s how we make a call on the ‘not-yet’ opportunity,” says Premkumar. “We are probably the only ones that are still open to investing in businesses at a really early stage.” This process has led DSG to back companies in the mother and baby, pet food, low alcohol or no alcohol, cold brew coffee categories, among others.

Once an investment closes, the firm spends the first two years working with the company on ironing out common wrinkles in the path traversed by young start-ups. These include the need to recruit functional leaders, establishing realistic stretch targets, building a brand narrative, localizing products, and organizing social media brainstorming sessions to ensure a strong presence online. The objective is to reduce the stress on solo founders who can often feel like it’s them against the world.

Increasing internet penetration has proven to be a blessing, exposing Indians to outside influences while giving companies an opportunity to market their products cost effectively. However, DSG is keen to reassure founders that the rise of technology-enabled business models doesn’t mean that its patient investment philosophy will be jettisoned in favor of pursuing high-cash burn growth models. The firm exited Oyo last year through a buyback by founder Ritesh Agarwal because it was clear the company had a different approach.

“It is really important that consumer businesses are built in a very capital efficient manner because that is how you still make the returns work despite a lower growth trajectory,” adds Premkumar. “That is an aspect where we watch them like a hawk.”

Over 70% of Fund II has now been deployed. A third fund closed last year at $65 million, accompanied by a second buildout fund – with a corpus of $50 million – that will support portfolio companies in their early expansion stage. DSG raised $20 million for its first annex vehicle in 2017. Fund III was oversubscribed but Shahdadpuri claims to have stayed loyal to his early group of LPs.

Meanwhile, the steady but unspectacular increases in corpus size with each vintage reflect the fact that seed opportunities don’t require checks beyond $1-2 million. It allows DSG to maintain its focus on finding brands relevant to an increasingly urbanized India. “Many categories in India don’t exist,” says Shahdadpuri. “We only do one thing, which is identify categories where we believe we can build a number one or number two brand.”

There has been a marked shift away from pure technology-based services businesses as well. Recent investments have focused on companies that produce tangible physical products. Across the funds, DSG has made seven investments in service-based online businesses. In the last three years, only one such portfolio company has been added – Leverage Edu, an online university admissions counselor.

The intensifying competition identified by Premkumar is visible in the investment philosophy of Fireside Ventures, Sixth Sense Ventures and Sauce. The consumer-focused units of generalist VC players like Sequoia Capital India, Accel Partners and Nexus Venture Partners have also upped their involvement in the same space.

Shahdadpuri maintains that it’s not easy to understand the urban consumer because behavior is constantly evolving, so there will always be openings for a keen observer. It comes down to gauging the impact of demographic change, the emergence of generation Z as the prevalent consumption force in place of millennials, and disruption driven by technology. Even if DSG’s rivals grasp the dynamics and identify local brand leaders, there should be plenty of opportunities to go around.

“The big lesson is there is no one market,” he says. “Some people care about the planet, some people don’t, and you can’t change them. What we do is try and understand the psyche of the consumer, we try to identify the strongest drivers and then try to back brands that are developing products for those buying decisions.”

Looking forward

With assets under management doubling in the last couple of years, DSG must continue to develop its market footprint and skillsets. Additions to the team are expected, not least to address concerns that the firm amounts to no more than Shahdadpuri’s networks and persona. “He has gone from managing a relatively small amount of money in Fund I to more money,” says Verlinvest’s Anand. “As this curve evolves, he’s grooming people to become partners, which I would say is the natural course of things.”

Exits will also become a priority as the firm looks to turn more of Fund I’s impressive paper gains into cash. DSG is not alone in facing this challenge – Anand says it is in no worse position than anyone else – as investments increase in number and portfolio companies grow in size. Ultimately, it is not only the firm’s knack for spotting emerging consumer trends that will be put to the test, but also its ability to pick companies that offer a logical path to liquidity.

Not all private equity firms will be successful in this endeavor, but Mirchandani trusts in Shahdadpuri’s experience. “He understands a lot of crazy stuff that happens early on. He’s not alarmed,” Mirchandani says. “He’s seen it all so it’s good to have someone on board who’s gone through all that madness.”

Pixar’s Coco has made more money in China than at home

#Movie #Poster Coco (2017) [1475 x 2000]

Probably my first China story. This was a lead suggested by my senior writer that I followed up on. (See published version here).

Pixar’s Toy StoryWall-E, and Finding Nemo are beloved in the US, but the iconic film studio has long struggled to replicate its stateside success in China. Its latest title, surprisingly, is changing that.

Coco, the story of an aspiring Mexican musician who meets the ghosts of his ancestors, has struck a chord with Chinese audiences. According to EntGroup, a company that tracks China’s box office, the film has raked in $157.3 million in ticket sales in China since it opened on Nov. 24. That’s a hair above the $151.9 million it has generated to date in North American box office sales, which in the film industry refers to the US and Canada markets.

That makes Coco the first Pixar film to perform better in China than at home. In contrast, Finding Dory, Pixar’s second-highest grossing film in China, raked in a fraction there of what it generated in the US.


Coco no longer occupies top spot in China’s box office rankings, displaced there instead by a local film about a female dance troupe in the army at the end of the Cultural RevolutionBut its strong showing in its fourth weekend in theaters mimics the Chinese success of another foreign film drawing on cultural themes beyond the US.

Dangal, an Indian film about a father who trains his daughters for competitive wrestling, generated $193 million at China’s box office this year. The movie’s focus on female empowerment in a predominantly patriarchal culture resonated in China, where a gender imbalance from the one-child policy is only now being corrected. The story in Coco, meanwhile, takes place in Mexico, but its theme of honoring one’s ancestors parallels Chinese culture’s tradition of filial piety.

Hollywood is relying on China for a growing portion of its overall revenue. Many of the top-grossing films of this year have earned a significant percentage of their revenues from China. The most recent film in the Fast and the Furious franchise, for example, grossed $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing film of the year. And 32% of its global ticket sales came from China alone, according to Box Office Mojo. Despicable Me 3, meanwhile, generated just over $1 billion worldwide, of which 15% came from China. (Not every hit crosses over—Beauty and the Beast, which beat Fast in worldwide sales, had a middling showing in China).

Even at $157.3 million right now, Coco could still have legs in China. The next benchmark to watch out for is if it passes Disney’s Zootopia, which grossed $235.6 million in China over seven weeks in theaters in 2016, making it the country’s highest-grossing animated film ever.

Singapore will keep jailing people without a trial—but it’ll be more transparent

Prison Food

A story focused on a legal development in Singapore with an angle for an international audience that the local publications did not cover. (See published version here).

Singapore has always been tough on crime—now it wants to be a bit more clear.

The Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, passed in 1955, allows authorities to put individuals “associated with activities of a criminal nature” into detention without a trial. But which activities? That’s always been a bit fuzzy. On Tuesday (Jan. 9), lawmakers outlined a proposed amendment—likely to pass this month—that better defines the act’s scope.

Among the offenses listed in the amendment are rape, murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking, unlicensed moneylending, human trafficking, robbery with firearms, and involvement in a secret society.

Authorities have long used the CLTPA to detain criminals without trial. Secret societies—clan-based associations of Chinese immigrants running brothels, gambling operations, and opium dens—were a serious problem in Singapore’s earlier, rougher years. They made it difficult to secure witness testimony in open court, as witnesses would be fearful of reprisals.[read more=More less=Less]

Today of course Singapore is a prosperous city-state and one of the safest places on the planet. But secret societies continue to operate(pdf, p. 9), though less prominently, as do unlicensed moneylenders, known for intimidating debtors.

“There is recognition that such a law is still required in certain situations, but the key challenge is to ensure that the powers provided for will not be abused,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

Over the years various observers have argued that the CLTPA gives authorities too much power, allowing detention without trial for an overly broad range of activities. Suspects can be imprisoned indefinitely, as detention orders may be extended (pdf) repeatedly after an initial period. Strikes by workers carrying out “essential services” are also specified under a provision in the act.

Authorities used that provision against Chinese foreign nationals working as bus drivers in 2012. The drivers had campaigned for pay equal to that of their Singaporean and Malaysian counterparts and staged the first strike in the country in over 25 years. Though they were given a trial, some of the drivers—providers of “essential services”—were jailed for over a month.

The introduction of the CLTPA amendment this week follows a case a few years ago involving syndicate head Dan Tan Seet Eng, accused of global match-fixing activities. He was freed after the scope of the CLTPA was questioned during appeals. That played a part in authorities wanting to specify which activities were covered.

The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, said the CLTPA was “not democratic” when speaking as an opposition leader in 1955. Today the People’s Action Party he founded, in power since the mid-1960s, has an absolute majority in parliament, and looks set to extend the act for a 14th time in 2019. At least it will be a bit more specific moving forward.

Rosmin freekick downs brave Geylang


I was a regular reporter at the national football league in Singapore. I reported on two matches every week from various football stadiums for a complete season. Find an archived version of the article here.

Reporting from the Jalan Besar Stadium

Rosmin Kamis scored an 82nd-minute freekick to help DPMM FC secure a 1-0 defeat of a resilient Geylang International side at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Geylang were without captain Jozef Kaplan as the Slovakian was sent off in his side’s 1-0 win over Hougang United last week. Nevertheless, they gave a good account of themselves in Friday’s Great Eastern-YEO’s S.League encounter and managed to resist a barrage of attacks throughout the game to ensure a respectable scoreline.

Led by Stefan Milojevic, the Eagles threatened first when Khairulnizam Jumahat swung in a free-kick that Wardun Yusoff did well to tip over the post in the third minute.

The DPMM custodian was also called to action a minute later when Wahyudi Wahid went close with a glancing header off a corner from the left.

Captain Rosmin began DPMM’s attack in earnest in the ninth minute when he curled in a free-kick that went over the bar.

It was Joao Moreira, however, who really helped the Bruneian side secure control of the match as the attacker was regularly winning aerial challenges and his flick-ons often helped his team-mates get decent opportunities within the box.

In the 16th minute, the Portuguese even went close to opening the scoring when he controlled Arturas Rimkevicius’ weighted lob and skipped past a defender to get into the box but his fierce drive from the right clattered off the post.

Attacking midfielder Rodrigo Tosi was next to get involved as a quick one-two in the 25th minute enabled him a try his hand with a similar opportunity.

From then on, the Eagles defended deeply inside their own half although they could have turned the tide had Milojevic timed his run to meet an overhanging cross from the left in the 36th minute.

As the half came to a close, Milojevic was also doing his best to maintain possession for his side and the Spaniard did well to shepherd the ball out of his own half in the 42nd minute with an excellent run that took him past three DPMM players.

His industry paid dividends as his side came up with the final attack of the half when Taufiq Ghani reached Jalal’s free-kick from deep; the midfielder somehow angled the ball with a header towards the far corner but Wardun was equal to the challenge.

DPMM came out of the dugout with all guns blazing, though, and Rimkevicius, in particular, appeared determined to see his name registered on the scoresheet on the night.

He started an energetic spell by heading a punt into the box towards Subhi Abdilah but the Bruneian shot the ball straight towards Ito in the Geylang goal.

Rimkevicius was again a nuisance three minutes later when he collected the ball down the left and wound his way into the box, firing a shot that was blocked by his marker.

Shortly thereafter, Moreira was next to threaten as he chested a pass down the right and bore down on goal but his shot was well off target.

Rimkevicius even clamored for a penalty after being unfairly pushed inside the box in the 52nd minute but he nearly made the most of the subsequent corner as a header went marginally over the bar.

And just two minutes later, the Lithuanian again snuck into the box from the left and saw another left-footed shot go wide of the post.

Geylang could do nothing but soak up the pressure and they were lucky that Moreira could not find much accuracy with a shot from outside the box in the 56th minute.

It could have been an altogether different story if Shotaro Ihata had not ruined a perfectly good opportunity two minutes before the hour mark after being picked out at the edge of the box. Instead of utilising the time to shoot at goal, the Japanese inexplicably opted to pass along towards a team-mate, only to see the ball get intercepted.

After the blistering start to the half, both sides made substitutions in the 66th minute as Geylang’s Duncan Elias and DPMM’s Moreira were swapped for Andrew Tan and Azwan Ali respectively.

Azwan made an impact just four minutes after his introduction as he caught the Geylang defence by surprise by collecting a long pass just outside the box. Luckily for V. Kanan’s side, a nearby defender rushed into position to block the substitute’s shot.

A minuter later, Tosi tried his luck as well with a long-range piledriver that just whizzed past the right post.

And as the game entered the final fifteen minutes with the scoreline still goalless, Rimkevicius was replaced by Adi Said but not before going close twice with decent opportunities inside the box.

Ihata also made his final contribution to the game a minute later when he nodded back Tan’s left-wing cross that Yasir Hanapi could only fire well over the bar.

Brunei finally got the goal that their dominant football deserved eight minutes from time, though, when Rosmin succeeded with a free-kick from the 30-yard distance. The DPMM captain did benefit from a huge slice of luck with that opportunity as the ball bounced off a defender in the wall and also earned a deflection off the goalkeeper’s back on its path towards goal.

Geylang did not just give up, though, and Milojevic did his best to level the scoreline when he collected the ball inside the box and made space for himself at the edge of the six-yard box in the 86th minute.

He failed with that attempt but he threaded through a pass to makeshift forward Norihiro Kawakami in the 89th minute, only for the Japanese defender to be denied by his marker.

DPMM kept things simple from then on and held on through three minutes of added time to edge Geylang for the win while also preserving a clean sheet in the process. The Wasps are now just one point behind Home United in seventh place in the S.League table and next face Global FC in the Singapore Cup quarter-finals at the same venue on Wednesday

Geylang remain in ninth place and face Home for the first leg of their cup fixture at the Bedok Stadium on Tuesday.