Holders Albirex Niigata FC (S) are on course for a fourth RHB Singapore Cup crown as a Taku Morinaga brace saw them overcome Hougang United FC 2-0 in the second leg of their first-round tie at Jurong East Stadium on Saturday evening.
Hougang, who had lost 1-0 in the first leg, had their chances but were made to pay for their profligacy as Morinaga struck once in each half.
Albirex have now won 38 straight home games – a run that stretches all the back way back to November 2015.
Chasing the tie, the visitors came in with an aggressive approach to close down Albirex whenever they were in possession and it largely worked in a first half as the White Swans barely threatened their goal.
The Cheetahs should have grabbed a shock lead on 27 minutes when Captain Fabian Kwok put in a teasing cross from the right byline, but South Korean front man Chang Jo-yoon only managed to divert wide from six yards out.
Clement Teo’s men were rather reckless with their challenges at times though and they paid the price five minutes before half-time.
Illyas Lee hacked down Albirex Captain Wataru Murofushi, leading to the home side being awarded a free kick 30 yards from goal.
Kenya Takahashi stepped up to deliver a speculative dead ball that Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin could only spill, with Morinaga on hand to convert the rebound.
Emotions were rising with Hougang midfielder Syahiran Miswan and Albirex Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga then involved in a spat of words just before the half-time whistle sounded, as both sets of players had to be calmed down while they headed down the tunnel.
Hougang returned for the second half with much more vigour and created a number of good openings, but found Albirex’s evergreen custodian Yohsuke Nozawa a tough nut to crack.
The 38-year-old denied Fazrul Nawaz in a one-on-one opportunity on 51 minutes, before smothering Iqbal Hussain’s close-range right-footed volley 18 minutes later.
Morinaga punished them on 71 minutes with an ice-cool finish.
Shun Kumagai’s clearance was superbly knocked on by Shuhei Hoshino into the path of Morinaga, who calmly lobbed the onrushing Ridhuan from the edge of the box.
That was his 13th goal of the season and it meant Albirex march on to face either Tampines Rovers FC or Home United FC in the semi-finals later this month.
WHAT THEY SAID
Albirex Head Coach Yoshinaga: “Sorry for all the unpleasant things that happened on the pitch and sorry that I could not control my temper. It was mainly because one of my previous players (Daizen Maeda) from high school had a serious injury because of a late tackle in the semi-finals of the Asian Games – because of that, he could not play in the final.
“In this match, I saw a lot of late tackles and I feel that more should be done to protect players from serious injuries. Thus I was upset, but I should be able to control my emotions better.
“We knew Hougang will come aggressively because we need to win this match. As such we told them to stay focused and cool when the bad tackles come. I’m glad our players maintained that most of the time. For the first leg of the semi-final, we will miss the services of two players – ‘Jumbo’ (Hoshino) and Kenya, but we should have enough time to work on different strategies to cope.”
Hougang Caretaker Head Coach Teo: “Practically every game we play in, we created chances but failed to score. You got to give credit to Albirex – they defended well and were very clinical in finishing off their chances.
“What we lack has nothing to do with technical work – what we lack is self belief. We’re trying to motivate them and give them confidence. Now we just need to translate that from training to games. There are no shortcuts in success.
“I would also like to apologise if our players gone a little too far, but this is football – it’s a physical game. Sometimes you just need to be more physical to show your presence. I guess my boys did that, but at certain times they just lost it. So I would like to apologise to Albirex for whatever incidents that happened.”
Albirex: Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Riku Moriyasu (Adam Swandi 69’), Shuhei Sasahara, Shun Kumagai, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Daiki Asaoka, Wataru Murofushi (C), Ryujiro Yamanaka (Ryutaro Shibanoki 90’+1), Taku Morinaga, Shuhei Hoshino.
Unused subs: Taiki Itsukaichi (GK), Kazuki Sumiishi, Kodai Sumikawa, Ryuji Yamauchi, Kazuya Kojima.
Hougang: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Muhaimin Suhaimi, Illyas Lee, Faiz Salleh, Jordan Vestering (Syukri Bashir 28’), Syahiran Miswan, Fabian Kwok (C), Iqbal Hussain, Nazrul Nazari, Chang Jo-yoon (Antoine Viterale 78’), Fazrul Nawaz (Shahfiq Ghani 84’).
Unused subs: Zulfairuuz Rudy (GK), Stanely Ng, Nurhilmi Jasni, Amir Zalani.