Singapore Premier League • August 26, 2014

Sakamoto Leads White Swans’ Comeback


Written by: Phoon Jia Hui

A Kazuki Sakamoto-inspired Albirex Niigata (S) came from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw and snatch a point off Tampines Rovers at Jurong East Stadium on Monday evening.

Tampines had established a two-goal lead after strikes from Noh Alam Shah and Jacob Butler on either side of half-time, but Sakamoto had other ideas as he reduced the deficit in the 74th minute before popping up with the equaliser two minutes from time.

It was Albirex who started the brighter of the two as they took the game to the visitors, although chances at a premium in the opening stages with Albirex disciplined in defending while Tampines’ passes were going astray.

The Stags however conjured their first chance of the game in the 11th minute through vice-captain Shahdan Sulaiman.

The 26-year-old picked up a loose ball from midfield and unleashed a shot from 25 yards but it flew inches wide.

At the other end, Kazuya Okazaki’s long-range drive in the 19th minute went straight at Justin Pasfield before Tampines’ Imran Sahib fired into the side-netting two minutes later.

By then, the defending Great Eastern Yeo’s S.League champions had settled down as they edged closer to an opener and they were nearly rewarded with one in the 24th minute. However, defender Kunihiro Yamashita lashed a powerful low shot which narrowly missed the target.

The Stags finally managed to carve open the Albirex defence in the 33rd minute, and it resulted in the opener.

Jozef Kaplan flicked a pass into the path of Alam Shah who had managed to stay onside and the latter coolly lifted the ball over an onrushing Kenjiro Ogino for 1-0.

The White Swans almost replied instantly two minutes later through Sakamoto but the forward was denied by Pasfield who saved it with his forearm.

Okazaki had another opportunity just before half-time and his header beat Pasfield but not the post as it sailed agonisingly wide.

Rafi Ali’s side extended their advantage shortly after the hour mark as Butler notched his first league goal of the campaign.

Receiving an Imran low cross from the right, the New Zealander swivelled before firing one which went in off the post to put his side further in front.

A two-goal advantage was always a dangerous scoreline and the home side pulled one back from the spot, after Anaz Hadee was adjudged to have fouled an Albirex player in the box.

Up stepped Sakamoto as he confidently dispatched his penalty into the top corner to make it 2-1.

With that, Albirex grew in confidence as they pushed numbers forward in search of an equaliser which came in the 88th minute.

Tampines failed to clear the lines following a low cross from the right and the ball fell kindly to Sakamoto who proceeded to curl an unstoppable finish past Pasfield for his 19th of the season.

Sakamoto could have sealed a hat-trick and three points for the White Swans in the dying seconds of the game but his grounder trickled just wide as both teams settled for a point each.

The result was a bitter blow to Tampines’ title chances as they now trail leaders Brunei DPMM – who have a game in hand – by one point while Albirex are still in fifth on 37 points, three behind Steve Kean’s side.