Football: 3 down, just 1 to go for Albirex

Rui Kumada (centre) is the toast of his team-mates after putting Albirex 3-0 up against Hougang in the 32nd minute. That the White Swans would clinch the league title was in little doubt after that.
Rui Kumada (centre) is the toast of his team-mates after putting Albirex 3-0 up against Hougang in the 32nd minute. That the White Swans would clinch the league title was in little doubt after that.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER
Atsushi Kawata lunging for the ball, as Hougang defender Nurhilmi Jasni races to keep up with him. Kawata opened the account for Albirex in the fourth minute with his 13th goal of the season.
Atsushi Kawata lunging for the ball, as Hougang defender Nurhilmi Jasni races to keep up with him. Kawata opened the account for Albirex in the fourth minute with his 13th goal of the season.

White Swans secure league crown, take on Tampines on Oct 29 for Singapore Cup

S-LEAGUE

Albirex Niigata 3 Hougang United 0

They are the developmental side of a crack Japanese J-League football side but in 12 previous S-League seasons, Albirex Niigata had never won Singapore's top club honour.

There were close shaves - three third-place finishes (2012, 2013, 2015) - and there were seasons to forget (eighth in 2007). But finally, the story of the ugly duckling came true, as the White Swans clinched the title at Jalan Besar Stadium last night after beating Hougang United 3-0.

They became the second successive foreign team to lift the S-League trophy after Brunei DPMM won the title last year.

And they remain on track to capture an unprecedented quadruple of local football trophies as they prepare to face Tampines Rovers in the RHB Singapore Cup final on Oct 29.

To make success even sweeter, Albirex are also the first team to hold all four domestic titles at once. The reigning Singapore Cup champions won the Community Shield curtain-raiser in February and the League Cup in July.

Besides playing fast-paced and aggressive football throughout the year, the statistics show that Albirex are deserving league winners.

Besides boasting the league's best attack, scoring 48 goals in 22 matches, they have the meanest defence - shipping just 16 goals.

Albirex took just eight minutes to race into a 2-0 lead against the Cheetahs. Leading scorer Atsushi Kawata scored his 13th goal of the season in the fourth minute.

Four minutes later, midfielder Masaya Jitozono curled home from a free kick to double the lead.

After Rui Kumada added another goal in the 32nd minute, victory looked certain even before the match was suspended for 40 minutes at the start of the second half due to inclement weather.

Albirex wrapped up the title with 50 points and two matches to spare, as they hold an unassailable 10-point lead over third-placed Tampines, who have two games left and were previously the only team with a mathematical chance of catching up.

Despite having the league title in the bag, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo will continue to floor the accelerator. He said: "I'm very happy to achieve our target. It has been a difficult project for us this season.

"(This victory) has given us the assurance that what we have been doing this season is good. So we are going to prepare and do our best to win the Singapore Cup.

"We won't change the way we have been playing, we'll do our best for the remaining few games.

"As a result of winning this title, I want to see improvements in the team."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2016, with the headline '3 down, just 1 to go for Albirex'. Print Edition | Subscribe