Singapore Premier League • August 12, 2018

Murofushi to Albirex’s rescue as late equaliser denies Home


The midfielder struck with virtually the last kick of the game to preserve his side’s remarkable unbeaten record

Wataru Murofushi scored his eighth goal of the season.

SINGAPORE, 12 AUG 2018 – A last minute equaliser from Albirex captain Wataru Murofushi helped Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata FC (S) avoid their first defeat of the season against Home United FC on Sunday evening at the Bishan Stadium.

Super-sub Shahril Ishak had netted three minutes after coming on at half-time, which appeared enough for the Protectors to become the first side to beat the White Swans after a highly organised and disciplined showing.

But the Japanese side dug in and pulled a rabbit out of the hat in an otherwise insipid display thanks to Murofushi, who ruthlessly buried the ball in the bottom right corner in the fourth minute of injury time.

The draw meant that Albirex are unbeaten for 41 games in a row in all competitions, stretching back to 2017.

It also meant that Home are now three points behind Tampines Rovers FC in the sweepstakes for the runners-up spot, with four games left.

Albirex dominated proceedings against a Home side that left Song Ui-young and Shahril Ishak on the bench and had Rudy Khairullah and Abdil Qaiyyim out injured.

Hiroyoshi Kamata fired just wide on seven minuts, before Taku Morinaga earned a penalty after Home defender Faizal Roslan fouled the Japanese attacker with a hasty challenge.

But Eko Pradana Putra, making his first start of the league season, pulled off a superb stop to deny Morinaga from the spot and Kamata thrashed the rebound wide.

Eko once again denied Morinaga after Albirex split open the Home defence, before a Home counter-attack shortly after saw M. Anumanthan shoot narrowly wide.

Home, the newly-crowned AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal champions, were increasingly threatening on the counter and another one on 37 minutes saw Amiruldin Asraf play in centre-back Shakir Hamzah.

But the centre-back, who had raced more than half the length of the pitch, elected to square the ball for Hafiz, only for the recovering Shuhei Sasahara to cut it out.

Albirex spurned a good opening four minutes before the break when Kenya Takahashi’s cross-shot was too hard for Shuhei Hoshino to control, as the league’s top scorer diverted the ball wide from close range.

Shahril Ishak replaced Amiruldin at half-time and the evergreen forward made an instant impact to net his 16th goal of the season.

A clearance from Faizal found its way to Shahril and the 34-year-old sprung the offside trap smartly, before coolly lobbing the ball over the onrushing Yohsuke Nozawa to break the deadlock.

The goal seemingly stunned Albirex, who struggled to create chances against a determined Home rearguard.

The hosts thought they had weathered the worst after Takahashi fizzed a free-kick inches past the post on 86 minutes, with Albirex appearing to run out of ideas.

But there was to be a dagger blow for Home from a side that has forgotten how to lose for the past 13 months.

Anumanthan’s hurried clearance was picked up by Takahashi, whose ping into the box was knocked on brilliantly by Kamata for an unmarked Murofushi – from eight yards, Albirex’s Captain Marvel was never going to miss.

Home Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “Of course I feel gutted but if you look at it, the boys gave everything. They are defending champions and champions this year; we are only the second team to take points off them. I look at it as one point gained and not two points lost.

“It’s not easy, we just played three days ago and are playing again on Wednesday… I’m very pleased with the boys’ performances.

“We had to rest some players… (but) the boys were disciplined and there was unity. Of course in football, there’s mistakes, and the mistake came at a bad time.”

Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “We really looked forward to playing Home United in this game because they are newly crowned AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal champions.

“This was not a very good game for us; in the first half we missed penalty and from there we didn’t really play well… we took a long time (to find our groove) and finally we scored in the last minute to preserve the unbeaten streak. We are happy with the point.

“After the game, I told the players this was a very difficult game for us and it’s where they can improve tremendously as a player and they should take all the positivity and grow from there.

“We didn’t have much space to work with and that was why the game didn’t go well for us. We did work on some plans to break down their defence, but our final ball let us down today. We definitely need to work on that. For today, our set-plays was poor and from the wings, our crossing was poor too. As professional players, this was not good enough for us. Our players have to work harder.”

Home: Eko Pradana Putra (GK), Shakir Hamzah, M. Anumanthan, Aqhari Abdullah (Song Ui-young 76′), Faritz Hameed, Amiruldin Asraf (Shahril Ishak 46′), Izzdin Shafiq (C), Faizal Roslan, Shahrin Saberin, Hafiz Nor (Amy Recha 90’+1), Isaka Cernak.
Unused subs: Kenji Rusydi (GK), Iqram Rifqi, Suhairi Sabri, Christopher Van Huizen.

Albirex: Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Shuhei Sasahara, Shun Kumagai, Daiki Asaoka, Riku Moriyasu, Wataru Murofushi (C), Shuhei Hoshino, Adam Swandi, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Taku Morinaga (Ryujiro Yamanaka 55′).
Unused subs: Shahul Rayyan (GK), Taiki Itsukaichi (GK), Kazuki Sumiishi, Kodai Sumikawa, Ryuji Yamauchi, Ryutaro Shibanoki.