News • October 15, 2016

Albirex End More Than A Decade-Long Wait For League Title


Written by: Shawn Lim

Albirex Niigata (S) ended a 12-year wait to win the Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League title for the first time in their club history after a first-half blitz saw them defeating Hougang United 3-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.

It took just four minutes for the designated hosts to open the scoring as Atsushi Kawata sprung the offside trap and latched onto a long ball out of defence from Kento Fujihara, before sending a lob over Cheetahs custodian Khairulhin Khalid and into the back of the net.

The early goal meant Hougang would have to be more adventurous if they were to take anything back to their Hougang Stadium, and it gave the White Swans more space to counter-attack as the Cheetahs left huge gaps at the back.

Albirex duly doubled their lead four minutes later when Kawata was fouled on the edge of the 18-yard box after some last-ditch defending by the Cheetahs, allowing Masaya Jitozono to step up and curl the ball into the bottom corner via a deflection, leaving Khairulhin rooted to the spot.

Kawata had two glorious opportunities to kill off the game for Albirex soon after as the makeshift Hougang defence – which had midfielders Nurhilmi Jasni and Afiq Noor as a centre-back pairing – struggled to cope with the aerial assault from the White Swans, but sent both his efforts well wide of the mark.

The Cheetahs had an opportunity to reduce the deficit on 17 minutes when M.Anumanthan found Stipe Plazibat lurking six-yards out from the goalmouth, but the Croatian fired narrowly wide as the Albirex defence closed down on him.

Daichi Ishiyama came close to adding a third for Albirex two minutes later when the 20-year-old tried an effort from just outside the box, but saw the ball flew inches wide of the goalpost.

Plazibat had another opportunity to grab a goal back for the visitors when he climbed the highest to get onto the end of Fumiya Kogure’s in-swinging free-kick, but was unable to direct his header towards goal.

Khairulhin then showed off some brilliant reflexes on 27 minutes when he had to stretched fully to tip out Naofumi Tanaka’s first-time volley from Rui Kumada’s cross that looked destined for the top corner.

There was nothing Khairulhin could do however, when Kumada slammed home Albirex’s third goal of the night from close range five minutes later after Kawata was allowed to dribble into the box from the byline before sliding the ball to the midfielder.

Hougang coach K.Balagumaran made an attacking switch immediately after the interval by bringing on striker Iqbal Hussain for left-back Huzaifah Aziz, but it was Albirex who started the second period on the front foot.

After Kawata was sent through on goal on 46 minutes, the 24-year-old forward rounded Khairulhin but somehow poked the ball wide with the goalmouth gaping.

That was the last piece of action as the match was temporarily halted minutes later when the Lightning Warning System was activated.

When the match restarted again, it was Hougang who were the more threatening side as the White Swans were more contented to sit back and defend their lead.

Fairoz Hasan took a crack at goal from 25 yards out on 57 minutes, but his fierce drive was unable to trouble Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.

There were further chances for the Cheetahs to find a way back into the game, but the three-goal gap proved insurmountable for Balagumaran’s charges to overcome as the White Swans hung on to win their first-ever S.League title with two games to spare.

Having already bagged the Great Eastern Community Shield, The New Paper League Cup and now the S.League title, the White Swans are on course to achieve a quadruple this season with an upcoming RHB Singapore Cup final on the calendar.

Albirex Niigata (S) coach Nauro Naoki: “This was a very difficult project for us, so I am delighted to be able to achieve this title.

“I wanted us to start quickly, but I didn’t expect us to score two goals within eight minutes. So I have to commend the team for pressing early and getting the ball forward as quickly as possible.

“Now we have shown how we good we are by winning the league, we have to prepare for the Singapore Cup final because we want to win that too.”

Hougang United coach K.Balagumaran: “I didn’t expect Albirex to change their game plan by playing long balls forward because our game plan was to press them high up the pitch.

“The three goals killed us and it was tough for us to come back in the second-half. We played better in the second-half.

“We created a couple of chances, but Albirex sat back against us from the start of the second-half, so it was very hard to penetrate them.”

Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK) (C), Naofumi Tanaka, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Shirota, Rui Kumada (Tatsuro Inui 77′), Masaya Jitozono (Mikiya Yamada 69′), Shuto Inaba, Daichi Ishiyama (Tomoki Menda 89′), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Atsushi Kawata, Kazuki Mine

Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Raihan Rahman, Huzaifah Aziz (Iqbal  Hussain 46′), Nurhilmi Jasni, Afiq Noor, Nazrul Nazari (Faiz Salleh 78′), Fairoz Hasan, M.Anumanthan, Fumiya Kogure, Jozef Kaplan (C), Stipe Plazibat