Singapore Premier League • July 23, 2018

Winning streak halted, but Albirex still clinch third straight league title


Balestier Khalsa FC became the first side to take points off the champions this season, but a draw was all the visitors needed.

Albirex are the third side in Singapore Premier League history to win three titles in a row.

SINGAPORE, 22 JULY 2018 – Albirex Niigata FC (S) clinched their third successive Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) title despite failing to win for the first time this season on Sunday evening.

Up against Balestier Khalsa FC, the White Swans only had to claim a point to mathematically seal the championship and a goal by Kenya Takahashi did just the job.

However, Hazzuwan Halim’s sublime strike in the second half ensured the hosts became the first side to hold Albirex this season as the visitors’ astonishing winning run – they won all 17 of their matches prior to this – came to an end.

The Tigers enjoyed a good chance early in the game when Sanjin Vrebac latched onto Zaiful Nizam’s long ball and released Hazzuwan, whose effort was repelled by Yohsuke Nozawa.

But it was all Albirex from there on. Shuhein Hoshino fired over from a good position on ten minutes, before Zaiful pulled off a stupendous double save to keep the scores level in the 18th minute.

The long-serving Balestier custodian tipped away Taku Morinaga’s shot from outside the box, before recovering to deny Adam Swandi’s follow-up.

However, all his good work was undone in the 32nd minute as he fumbled Takahashi’s innocuous free-kick into his own goal to put the visitors 1-0 up.

Balestier had a rare chance to make it 1-1 just before the break when Vrebac once again provided a good through ball to Hazzuwan, but Nozawa was alert and pushed his shot away.

The Tigers came out an improved side in the second half and were duly rewarded within two minutes thanks to a wonder goal.

Fariz Faizal found Hazzuwan just outside the box and and the 24-year-old smartly lifted a first-time strike over Nozawa, who had come off his line.

The visitors rallied as Hoshino forced Zaiful into action, before Takahashi curled another dead-ball narrowly over.

At the other end, Huzaifah Aziz’s free-kick was flicked on by Fariz for Vrebac, who wastefully headed over from point-blank range.

The last chance of note came in the 79th minute when Morinaga had a good chance to put his side up again, but his fierce drive was brilliantly kept out by Zaiful.

The Tigers then held on under heavy pressure as Albirex’s winning streak in the league, which stretches back to last season, came to an end at 21 games.

Balestier Head Coach Marko Kraljevic: “We are very happy to be the first ones to stop Albirex this season. This is what top clubs in Singapore are supposed to do and we had to do it for them.

“We didn’t want to let them celebrate but they are still champions anyway, they played the best football this year and are by far the champions. Of course I’m happy with my boys, they worked very hard and it was really tough. It’s not easy playing them, they have many players running off the ball and we had to track back. It was a hard job and the boys did a great job.

“(Hazzuwan’s goal) was a world-class goal, The ball came to him as a surprise but he saw the goalkeeper was off his line and it was a really good goal. I needed something special and this was something special; Hazzuwan did it for us.”

Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “Although we created some chances, there was a lack in precision, so we couldn’t get the goals we wanted, so this is something we have to work on. I think the boys realise now they have a lot to improve and when we go back to the training ground, I hope they will work harder so that the next match will be better.

“We are happy to clinch the title. This is our club’s 15th anniversary and all these 15 years have been spent building up our foundation for what we are achieving right now. There was a lot of hard work put in these 15 years so we hope we can push on further after clinching this title.

“I have good support from the club’s staff, the players have worked very hard and the fans have always been there cheering us all the way to the victory. So from my heart, thank you and congratulations to everyone in the Albirex family.”

Balestier: Zaiful Nizam (C), Fadli Kamis, Nurisham Jupri, Nurullah Hussein, Hazzuwan Halim (Akbar Shah 90’), Huzaifah Aziz, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Fariz Faizal, Ahmad Syahir, Noor Akid Nordin (Dusan Marinkovic 83’), Vrebac Sanjin.
Unused subs: Hafiz Ahmad (C), Shaqi Sulaiman, Khalili Khalif, Sufianto Salleh, Nazri Sabri.

Albirex: Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Shuhei Sasahara, Shun Kumagai, Daiki Asaoka, Riku Moriyasu (Ryujiro Yamanaka 68’), Wataru Murofushi (C), Shuhei Hoshino, Adam Swandi, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Taku Morinaga.
Unused subs: Shahul Rayyan (GK), Taiki Itsukaichi (GK), Kazuki Sumiishi, Kodai Sumikawa, Ryuji Yamauchi, Ryutaro Shibanoki.