Singapore Cup • October 4, 2018

No way past Nozawa as Albirex frustrate Home to reach Singapore Cup final


Kenya Takahashi’s free-kick sealed a 1-0 win but it was the veteran goalkeeper who carried his side

Albirex celebrate after Kenya Takahashi broke the deadlock.

SINGAPORE, 3 OCT 2018 – Yohsuke Nozawa’s heroics in goal helped Albirex Niigata FC (S) steal a 1-0 victory against Home United FC in the second leg of their RHB Singapore Cup semi-final tie at Bishan Stadium on Wednesday night, as the reigning champions progressed into a fourth straight final after winning 4-2 on aggregate.

Albirex will now contest Saturday’s final against Brunei DPMM FC, who also beat Balestier Khalsa 4-2 over two legs.

Having lost the first leg at Jurong East Stadium 3-2 a week ago, Home needed just one goal to level the tie but were continually thwarted by the evergreen Nozawa.

Song Ui-young could have scored after just five minutes on the clock, but the 38-year-old got down well to tip the ball around the post.

Nozawa then repelled Isaka Cernak’s header off Hafiz Nor’s free-kick from point-blank range, before denying the latter on the follow-up five minutes later.

The White Swans custodian then batted away a close-range shot from Shahril Ishak on 16 minutes before tipping away Hafiz’s free-kick 12 minutes later.

Albirex woke up from their slumber late into the first half and Shun Kumagai – starting upfront again in place of the rested Shuhei Hoshino – saw his first-time shot off Kenya Takahashi’s low cross tipped behind by Kenji Rusydi.

Home regrouped after the break and went close again on 51 minutes, only for Nozawa to save Song’s effort.

Those saves proved crucial as Albirex drew first blood in the 63rd minute.

The odds looked stacked against Takahashi from 35 yards after Kumagai was brought down by Iqram Rifqi, but the set-piece specialist struck the resulting dead ball with extreme prejudice into the top right corner.

That sensational strike – Takahashi’s fifth free-kick goal this season – meant Home needed two goals just to push the tie into extra-time, but Nozawa was hell-bent on keeping his 13th clean sheet of the year.

The former J-League goalkeeper saved Song’s diving header off Shakir Hamzah’s left-wing cross on 71 minutes and also smothered the ball before it crept over the line on 71 minutes.

He then parried substitute Fazli Ayob’s snapshot from just outside the area two minutes later, before leaving the best for the last with a stunning reflex save to deny Shahril’s well-directed header off Fazli’s right-wing cross on the stroke of full-time.

Albirex held on to keep their chances of winning a fourth consecutive Cup alive, while extending their unbeaten run to 49 games in all competitions.

They are also unbeaten in 20 matches in the competition, winning 19 of those in a run that stretches back to the start of their 2015 Cup campaign.

Home Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “Honestly, I feel frustrated with this result. The Albirex goalkeeper is very experienced and I consider him the best in the league. If you realise, he didn’t have that many saves to make over the course of the season like (he had to do) today.

“It proves that my team can match them. The boys worked very hard and it’s not easy to play so many games back to back. I’m proud of my boys for the way they fought and gave everything. It’s just not our day.”

Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “We have played a lot of matches these few weeks and the players are tired… Home are a very good team so it was a difficult game for us. Our players showed mental strength to win this game and I want them to continue to play their best for one more game on Saturday.

“There are no local clubs in the final, but we consider ourselves a local club and we have a lot of Singaporean supporters. We will fight hard for the supporters to win the final.”

Home: Kenji Rusydi (GK), Aqhari Abdullah (Faritz Hameed 75’), Abdil Qaiyyim, Faizal Roslan, Shakir Hamzah (C), M. Anumanthan, Isaka Cernak, Hafiz Nor (Amy Recha 84’), Song Ui-young, Iqram Rifqi (Fazli Ayob 65’), Shahril Ishak.
Unused subs: Eko Pradana Putra (GK), Muhelmy Suhaimi, Arshad Shamim, Christopher Van Huizen.

Albirex: Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Riku Moriyasu, Shuhei Sasahara, Kaishu Yamazaki, Kenya Takahashi, Daiki Asoaka, Adam Swandi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Wataru Murofushi (C), Ryujiro Yamanaka, Shun Kumagai.
Unused subs: Taiki Itsukaichi (GK), Shahul Rayyan (GK), Kazuki Sumiishi, Shuhei Hoshino, Kodai Sudaikawa, Ryuji Yamauchi, Kazuya Kojima .