Albirex hang on to clinch shield

Atsushi Kawata (No. 13) of Albirex Niigata tries to head the ball away during last night's Community Shield match against Brunei DPMM at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Atsushi Kawata (No. 13) of Albirex Niigata tries to head the ball away during last night's Community Shield match against Brunei DPMM at the Jalan Besar Stadium.ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
Albirex thanking their fans among the 2,481-strong crowd at Jalan Besar.
Albirex thanking their fans among the 2,481-strong crowd at Jalan Besar.

Despite racing to a 3-0 lead, the White Swans concede two goals before beating DPMM

COMMUNITY SHIELD

Albirex Niigata  3
Brunei DPMM  2

Between them, Brunei DPMM and Albirex Niigata swept all three domestic titles on offer last season - but neither side will be betting on a similar outcome this campaign.

 

The league's two foreign teams, which got the S-League's 21st season under way yesterday at the Jalan Besar Stadium in front of a 2,481-strong crowd, acknowledged that this season could be the most competitive yet.

Said DPMM coach Steve Kean, who saw his side fall to a 2-3 defeat: "Lots of players have changed clubs, and we've got the LionsXII players back in the league. It will be more competitive and we need to train and do better.

"It's unpredictable, we don't really know who are the challengers but I think we will improve."

His counterpart, Naoki Naruo, concurred. Despite the manner of victory, Naruo, who was last in charge of the White Swans in 2009, said: "Other clubs are aiming for the title and every game will be very difficult for us."

ACKNOWLEDGING THE CHALLENGES

Other clubs are aiming for the title and every game will be very difficult for us.

NAOKI NARUO, Albirex Niigata coach, giving his perspective on the 3-2 win.

Leading the pack are last season's league runners-up Tampines Rovers, who are favourites to win the league this season after signing nine former LionsXII players and star winger Jermaine Pennant.

Judging by yesterday, defending league champions DPMM certainly face an uphill task retaining their crown, won on the final day of last season.

The Wasps released defensive duo Joseph Gamble and Boris Raspudic in the off-season, two important cogs in their title-winning team, due to a reduction in the foreign player quota.

And it showed, as they struggled badly in the first half against the disciplined and fit Albirex, who could have been 4-0 up by half-time, had striker Atsushi Kawata - in excellent form otherwise - been more prolific.

The Japanese side looked more than capable of building on a successful 2015, which saw them finish third in the league, and win both the Singapore Cup and League Cup.

Despite losing last season's Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure and a host of key players, chemistry was not lacking among the White Swans, who pinged the ball around with zip and purpose.

Led by captain and playmaker Kento Nagasaki, Albirex found gaps in Brunei's defence time and again.

On one such occasion, right-back Mikiya Yamada broke the deadlock after 16 minutes, rifling home from close range after good work down the left from Hiroyoshi Kamata.

Kamata doubled the lead on 36 minutes, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner after Nagasaki found him with a disguised through ball. Kento Fujihara made it 3-0 after poking home a corner on 59 minutes.

Brunei's Azwan Ali pulled a goal back in the 65th minute, guiding the ball into an empty net after Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa missed the ball while rushing off his line.

Nazawa was also at fault for Brunei's second goal, when his half-hearted clearance rebounded off Naofumi Tanaka into the net.

Despite the loss, Kean remains confident that DPMM will bounce back and become better, given that they had not played any pre-season friendlies yet.

The Scot explained: "We need to travel far for competitive games. We just played first team against the reserves. (But) we showed in the second half that we are a good side."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'ALBIREX HANG ON TO CLINCH SHIELD'. Print Edition | Subscribe