Football: Albirex eye bigger goals

Albirex Niigata training ahead of the League Cup final in July, which they won. They could win their third piece of silverware this season with victory against Hougang United in the S-League tonight. An unprecedented quadruple awaits if they can also
Albirex Niigata training ahead of the League Cup final in July, which they won. They could win their third piece of silverware this season with victory against Hougang United in the S-League tonight. An unprecedented quadruple awaits if they can also defeat Tampines in the Singapore Cup final on Oct 29.TNP FILE PHOTO

White Swans can win league crown today but Naruo says their best is yet to come

S-LEAGUE

Albirex Niigata v Hougang United

Jalan Besar, 7.45pm

StarHub Ch112/205 & 76.25MHz

For Albirex Niigata, it is not enough to just clinch their first S-League title should they beat Hougang United tonight. The Japanese developmental side are eyeing a piece of Singapore football history by winning an unprecedented quadruple this season.

The White Swans, who have won the League Cup in July, will face Tampines Rovers in the Singapore Cup final on Oct 29 in a bid to win the quartet of trophies in a single calendar year. They started the campaign with a 3-2 win over Brunei DPMM in the Charity Shield.

Should Albirex perform a clean sweep of domestic titles, this will be the second year in a row that a local side has failed to win a major domestic trophy on home soil.

Last year, Brunei DPMM won the S-League, while Albirex bagged the League Cup and Singapore Cup. Only Warriors FC's Charity Shield win prevented a clean sweep by the foreign teams.

The S-League title is Albirex's to lose with three games remaining as they lead the nine-team table on 47 points, six points ahead of DPMM and with two games in hand.

Third-placed Tampines (40 points) are the only team with a mathematical chance of catching up with the league-leaders. But if the title race is still alive after today's match, it will be over for the Stags if they lose to bottom side Garena Young Lions tomorrow.

Even though his team is on the brink of a historic achievement, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo is demanding more from his players.

 

He said: "We are still not showing our best football yet. For example, we can improve in the areas such as scoring goals, our one-touches, and breaking through the centre of the defence.

"We are close, but we cannot think that we have already won anything yet."

He is eager to seal the title today to avoid slipping on potential banana skins. Home United and Tampines are his side's final two opponents in the S-League.

Naruo said: "We are confident that we can win the title this week. This is the biggest match for us now that we have come to this stage of the season and we have to win against Hougang."

A triumph will be an especially sweet one for experienced midfielder Tatsuro Inui.

He has made 152 appearances in the S-League - the most among the current squad - and is looking to end his six-year wait for the S-League crown.

This is the only title that has eluded him in his five previous years of playing in Singapore.

He played for Albirex (2010-11), Warriors FC (2012-13) and Geylang International (last year) and won the League Cup in 2011 and the Singapore Cup in 2012.

The 26-year-old said: "It's a big motivation for me. I was not sure at the start of the season if we can win because (Tampines) are a strong team, but now we're very close to the title."

Striker Hiroyoshi Kamata, who has scored three goals so far this season, added: "There are not too many chances to win titles in a football career.

"To experience it in my first year playing in Singapore makes it special."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Albirex eye bigger goals'. Print Edition | Subscribe