History was made at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night when Albirex Niigata (S) clinched their first-ever S.League title after triumphing over Hougang United in a 3-0 victory.Four minutes into kick off and the White Swans were already riding high with an early goal by top scorer Atsushi Kawata.
Four minutes into kick off and the White Swans were already riding high with an early goal by top scorer Atsushi Kawata.
The former cleverly found a space out of defense to connect with the lobbed through pass from Kento Fujihara, before calmly chipping the ball over Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid into the bottom right corner of the net.
Just four minutes later, the Cheetahs conceded another goal to a set-piece after a foul was committed against Kawata at the edge of the penalty arc. The well-placed free kick by Masaya Jitozono left Hougang custodian Khairulhin Khalid watching helplessly as the ball lodged itself into the net.
The White Swans continued to launch several offenses, forcing their way into the Cheetah’s grounds. Atsushi Kawata cleverly lodged himself in the gaps between Hougang’s defense lines to receive aerial passes from his team. However, both attempts by the striker to score flew over the crossbar.
Hougang United sought to create several opportunities, though their advances into the opposing team’s grounds were greatly hindered by Albirex’s strong line of defense.
Huzaifah Aziz and M.Anumanthan were plagued by the Albirex defenders as they forced their way towards the penalty box in the 16th minute. The three-way pass between them ended with an ambitious finesse shot by Fumiya Kogure which landed right in the arms of Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa.
At the 18th minute, M.Anumanthan managed to break away from his marker to find Fairoz Hasan who was inches away from the penalty mark. However, Hougang’s opportunity to reduce the deficit was lost when the midfielder’s shot flew inches wide of the goal.
Another opportunity arose when Stipe Plazibat connected with Fumiya‘s corner free-kick at the 23rd minute, but his close-range header could not find the back of the net.
Albirex was denied their third goal when Khairulhin sprang to action with his quick reflexes to deflect Naofumi Tanaka’s volley in mid-air.
But the custodian’s feat was short-lived as Rui Kumada drove the ball into the net just five minutes later. The defender was left open in the penalty box as the Cheetahs rushed to tackle Atsushi, who skillfully dribbled around them before finding Rui.
Hougang took on an offensive approach in the second half, with Coach K.Balagumaran making the decision to substitute defender Huzaifah Aziz for striker Iqbal Hussain.
Once the second half whistle blew, Albirex was handed the ball after Kazuki Mine intercepted Raihan Rahman’s long ball. Within a minute, Kawata was racing towards the open goal but his shot was driven inches wide.
When the match resumed after the 50-minute delay because of the threat of lighting, Albirex opted for a defensive switch to secure their lead, substituting Midfielder Masaya Jitozono for defender Mikiya Yamada.
Fairoz Hasan took a shot at the goal from 25 yards out in the 57th minute, but the ball was stopped in its tracks by Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa. The last 10 minutes saw the Cheetahs creating more opportunities to reduce the deficit.
However, the White Swans were adamant about maintaining the 3-0 score difference and sought to reduce the Cheetahs’ chances by making last-minute substitutions and kicking the ball out of play. Eventually, the Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa was carded for deliberate time wasting.
As the final whistle blew, the White Swans once again lived up to their name of having the best defensive record in the S.League, proving to be formidable against the attacks from the Cheetahs.
While Albirex Niigata (S) celebrates their historic victory, Hougang United’s hopes to qualify for the AFC cup are shrouded with uncertainty. Though Home United and Geylang International FC looms behind with just a one-point difference on the S.League table, the Cheetahs promise to roar on in the upcoming matches.
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK) (C), Naofumi Tanaka, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Shirota, Rui Kumada (Tatsuro Inui 77′), Masaya Jitozono (Mikiya Yamada 69′), Shuto Inaba, Daichi Ishiyama (Tomoki Menda 89′), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Atsushi Kawata, Kazuki Mine
Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid (GK), Raihan Rahman, Huzaifah Aziz (Iqbal Hussain 46′), Nurhilmi Jasni, Afiq Noor, Nazrul Nazari (Faiz Salleh 78′), Fairoz Hasan, M.Anumanthan, Fumiya Kogure, Jozef Kaplan (C), Stipe Plazibat
Match report by: Ang Tian Tian
Photos courtesy of: Haiqal Tahir