Albirex Niigata(S) FC 1 (Sho Kamimura 2”)
Harimau Muda 0
In a battle between two young foreign sides of the S-League, Albirex Niigata climbed back to the top of the table once again after defeating fellow title challenger Harimau Muda 1-0 after taking an early lead within two minutes.
The White Swans got things off to a wonderful start when Sho Kamimura opened the scoring within two minutes. A through ball was spilled by Izham Tarmizi and it fell back to the Japanese winger who made no mistake slotting the ball into an open net.
It could have easily been 2-0 within ten minutes but Toshikazu Soya fluffed his chance when he misjudged the bouncing ball in the penalty area, missing his kick completely.
Albirex remained in control for most of the first half but Fandi Othman managed to release a stinger from 35yards out forcing Takuma Ito to pull off a world class save that tipped the shot just wide. Syahrul Azwari also managed to make a rare foray into the Albirex box which saw Ito stepping up to the challenge again to deny the Malaysian youngster.
Harimau Muda emerged from the break looking more adventurous on the attack but were frequently disappointed by their ability to string their passes together as Albirex kept their shape and pressed the Malaysians in a very well organized manner.
The Young Tigers did however manage to threaten when Azzizan Nordin played a fast ball dangerously across the face of goal which his team mates failed to pick up and was safely cleared. Shortly after, Ahmad Hazwan forced another full stretch save from Ito who was determined to keep his team’s lead intact.
The best chance of the game for Harimau Muda came when a cross from Syahrul Azwari from the left fell to Ahmad Hazwan but his shot was denied by the ever alert Takuma Ito who rushed off his line in time to close Hazwan’s angle down while making his presence felt with a “Star” save that blocked the shot.
The Young Tigers kept piling on the pressure in the dying minutes of the game but Albirex kept their calm and pressed on to secure a much needed victory that saw them rise above Tampines Rovers who have a game in hand.
No More Distraction from League Title
Speaking to the media after the game, Albirex Niigata Coach Koichi Sugiyama was clearly pleased with his team crediting his players and his staff for the win but insisted that there are some things that still need to be worked on.
“I have a wonderful team and wonderful staff and I am very happy with the result today. However there are a couple of points that we need to reflect on and I think retaining possession is one of them”
He also added that they will not be taking their focus off the league title despite the pressure of retaining the League Cup.
“We will take the games one game at a time, we do not want to get distracted from trying to win the S-League title like we did last season” added the Japanese tactician.
“We just could not convert”
Assistant Coach Hassan Sazali who was speaking on behalf of Coach Ong Kim Swee congratulated his Japanese counterpart for the win but felt his team was disappointing in front of goal.
“We tried but our forwards just couldn’t convert the chances. We did some tactical changes in the second half and tried to get the goal but Albirex defended well and we just could not convert.”
He also gave some updates on the team’s senior players like Wan Zack Haikal and Wan Zaharulnizam who are on trial in Japan adding that he expects them to be back with the team after the month of Ramadhan if their trials with their respective clubs were unsuccessful.
Starhub League Cup
The S-League will now take a break as we see the start of the Starhub League Cup on the 26th of July when SAFFC take on Tanjong Pagar at Choa Chu Kang while Home United will host Courts Young Lions at the Bishan Stadium.
Albirex Niigata(S): Takuma Ito(GK), Norihiro Kawakami(C), Kunihiro Yamashita, Atsushi Shimono, Keisuke Matsui, Musashi Okuyama (Shuhei Hotta 90+3”), Sho Kamimura, Toshikazu Soya (Yasuhiro Yamakoshi 61’), Masatake Sato, Takeshi Ito, Hidekazu Yamamoto (Yuki Ichikawa 45’). Unused subs: Kohta Tamakawa, Hiroaki Hara, Yuhei Shiratori, Keita Kobayashi
Harimau Muda: Izham Tarmizi (GK)(C), Irfan Fazail, Syazwan Tajudin, Shahrul Saad, Nazirul Naim, Affize Faisal (Syahid Zaidon 85”), D Saarvindran, Azzizan Nordin (Ferris Danial 71’), Fandi Othman, Syahrul Azwari (Izuan Salahuddin 76”), Ahmad Hazwan. Unused subs: Shahril Sa’ari
Yellow: Norihiro Kawakami 80” (Albirex Niigata(S)) Affize Faisal 52”, D. Saarvindran 77”(Harimau Muda)