News • July 19, 2016
The New Paper League Cup 2016: White Swans Soar Into Last Four
Written by: Ryan Low
Holders Albirex Niigata (S) barely broke a sweat as they easily overcame Balestier Khalsa 2-0 at the Jurong East Stadium on Monday night to qualify for the semi-finals of The New Paper League Cup.
The White Swans were patient against a Balestier side that packed numbers behind the ball and eventually prevailed through goals from Tomoki Menda and Masaya Jitozono on either side of the break.
Jitozono was relishing a rare start in midfield as he tried a couple of long-range efforts that forced Balestier goalkeeper Naqiuddin Nodin into full stretch.
Albirex were utterly dominant in the first 45 minutes, with Tadaaki Yazawa and Kento Nagasaki similarly threatening from range before Jitozono’s goal-bound free kick was pushed around the post by Naqiuddin.
Naoki Naruo’s side finally broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time, with Menda left free to flick home a header from Nagasaki’s precise inswinging corner.
Balestier almost equalised immediately, but Croatian frontman Niko Tokic could only slam wide from six yards out with a couple of defenders closing in.
At half-time, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo decided to throw on Atsushi Kawata to replace Hiroyoshi Kamata and it proved to be an inspired switch.
Within a minute of his introduction, Kawata knocked down a long ball into the path of Jitozono, who hooked home a delightful left-footed volley from 20 yards out that nestled in the bottom right corner.
Balestier tactician Marko Kraljevic decided to go for broke by making a bold triple substitution on the hour mark, with Ho Wai Loon, Jamil Ali and Syafiq Zainal all coming into the fray.
However, the trio was unable to influence proceedings much as Albirex stand-in goalkeeper Eita Kasagawa ended the game without having to make a single save.
At the other end, Naqiuddin produced a number of stunning saves to keep the score down – which ultimately proved to be futile as his side fell to their first defeat in Group B.
Balestier now have to win their final group game against Home United on Friday night to stand any chance of qualification, while Albirex’s passage to the last four is already secured.
Albirex Niigata (S) head coach Naoki Naruo: “Our main focus was how to score goals against defensive team. Today we aimed to use more side attacks to create chances.
“In the first half, our strikers couldn’t keep the ball well so I brought on Kawata in the second half; he can score and create. Both him and (Kazuki) Mine can keep the ball, so that made it very dangerous for our opponents. I’m happy that he played a part in our second goal.”
Balestier Khalsa head coach Marko Kraljevic: “I was expecting more from my team tonight. We were a bit defensive with five in midfield, but we did great job until the last minute of the first half.
“We conceded again after half time and that made it very difficult for us. I put in Syafiq and Jamil to try and change the game, but we were not able to open up the game. We lost the ball too easily and was not able to keep possession under pressure.
“Now we need to win our last game against Home (United) to qualify; no need to calculate a lot. Hopefully we can improve.”
Albirex Niigata (S): Eita Kasagawa (GK), Mikiya Yamada, Kento Fujihara, Naofumi Tanaka (C), Shuto Inaba (Rui Kumada 71’), Tomoki Menda, Masaya Jitozono, Kazuki Mine, Kento Nagasaki, Tadaaki Yazawa (Ryoh Kurihara 90’), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Atsushi Kawata 46’)
Balestier Khalsa: Naqiuddin Nodin (GK), Fadli Kamis, Hanafi Salleh, Niko Tokic, Sheikh Abdul Hadi (C), Fazli Ayob, Fadhil Noh (Syafiq Zainal 61’), Ahmad Syahir, Danial Farhan Tan (Jamil Ali 61’), Gary Loo, Sadin Smajovic (Ho Wai Loon 61’)