News Singapore Cup • August 27, 2018

Singapore Cup Preview: Iqbal eyes Hougang upset against Albirex


Hougang United attacker Iqbal Hussain has scored thrice this season.

SINGAPORE, 27 AUG 2018Hougang United FC are looking to put their league woes aside when they host holders Albirex Niigata FC (S) in the first leg of their RHB Singapore Cup first-round tie at Hougang Stadium on Wednesday night, 29 August. The match will kick off at 7.45pm.

BACKGROUND It has been a sorry season for Hougang in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL).

With just ten points out of a possible 63, they are eight adrift of eighth-placed Geylang International FC and will be condemned to a bottom-placed finish for the first time since 2015 if they do not beat Home United FC in their next league game.

As such, the Singapore Cup provides a welcome distraction for the Cheetahs – whom have never won any silverware in their history – although they will need to topple an imperious Albirex over two legs first.

The unbeaten White Swans have won 17 out of 19 matches this term, only dropping points against Balestier Khalsa FC and Home as they retained their league crown at a canter.

With the second leg to be played at Jurong East Stadium, where Albirex are on a 37-game winning streak since November 2015, Hougang need to get a good result in the first leg at home.

However, there is enough reason for Clement Teo’s charges to believe, having pushed them close in both league encounters this season – losing just 1-0 away and 2-1 at home.

“The key is to stay disciplined and aggressive in defence, as well as being ruthless in attack,” said attacker Iqbal Hussain, who was part of the Singapore Selection side along with Albirex trio Wataru Murofushi, Adam Swandi and Shuhei Hoshino that participated in the Sultan of Selangor’s (SOS) Cup at Shah Alam, Malaysia over the weekend.

“I played alongside the three Albirex players for the SOS Cup and it was good for me to see what kind of qualities they offer. There’s a reason why they’re the champions of the SPL again.

“We won’t get that many chances against them so we need to convert them when there are. This Cup gives other clubs, including us, a fighting chance to clinch some silverware. So despite our troubles in the league, we will give everything… who knows if we can go all the way?”

Albirex are, however, bent on winning a fourth straight Singapore Cup to complete a clean sweep of domestic trophies for a third successive year.

“Nothing has changed since winning the league title… We have a bigger goal than just being SPL champions and the head coach (Kazuaki Yoshinaga) understands that,” said Captain Murofushi. “It’s important for this club to win all the trophies again, so we have to be focused to complete this task.”

Hougang have a big problem in central defence, with Fabian Kwok unavailable due to a one-game suspension carried over from last year while Ashrul Syafeeq is out for around a month due to injury. Meanwhile attacker Stanely Ng is also recovering from injury and should sit this one out.

The good news is that goalkeeper Zulfairuuz Rudy and wide man Nazrul Nazari is back in training after recovering from their previous injuries.

Albirex, in contrast, have an almost full-strength squad to call upon, barring centre-back Kaishu Yamazaki who is out for the long-term due to a knee injury.

Hougang: LWLLL
Albirex: WDWDW

04/07/18: Hougang 1-2 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
06/05/18: Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
19/10/17: Albirex 1-0 Hougang – Singapore Premier League
07/07/17: Hougang 0-0 Albirex – League Cup
03/07/17: Hougang 2-1 Albirex – Singapore Premier League

Fazrul Nawaz – Hougang
Despite still languishing at the bottom in the league, Hougang have improved in recent games and it is largely down to the efforts of Fazrul upfront. The mid-season loan signing from Tampines Rovers FC has provided a different dimension in attack and got his first goal for the club in their game – a 3-1 defeat away at Brunei DPMM FC.

Shuhei Hoshino – Albirex
The current SPL top scorer has brought his credentials up another notch by netting and impressing for the Singapore Selection in the SOS Cup over the weekend. With Hougang having a crisis in defence, the burly 22-year-old could have a field day on Wednesday night.

Hougang forward Iqbal :
“It was a great experience at the SOS Cup as it was my dream to play in front of thousands of fans. Now I have focus again on my priority of helping my club. I’ve been giving my best in different attacking roles this year – left midfield, right midfield, central midfield and striker.

“Each position has its own responsibilities. If I score a goal, I consider it as a bonus. The key to getting back to scoring ways is practice and being clinical in trainings. I’ve always looked up to Fazrul so it’s great having him in Hougang. He motivates, give advice and encourage me in trainings. He is really a true professional and I’m glad to learn things to improve my game from him.”

Albirex midfielder Murofushi: “It was an amazing experience to play for Singapore Selection at the SOS Cup. After this experience, I know that I have to improve more to be a top player. I played with Iqbal for that match… he has a good left foot, so that’s what we have to watch out for when he’s having the ball for Hougang.

“It’s difficult for us because we’re playing away at Hougang Stadium and their defence is hard to break down. So we have to work really hard for the whole 90 minutes to defeat them.”

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