Match Of The Week

Football: Albirex want a clean sweep this season

Albirex striker Atsushi Kawata (foreground) made an early claim for the S-League Golden Boot award with four goals in their 5-0 win over the Garena Young Lions last Sunday. After a League Cup and Singapore Cup double last season, they are aiming for
Albirex striker Atsushi Kawata (foreground) made an early claim for the S-League Golden Boot award with four goals in their 5-0 win over the Garena Young Lions last Sunday. After a League Cup and Singapore Cup double last season, they are aiming for a first league title.TNP FILE PHOTO

S-LEAGUE

Balestier Khalsa v Albirex Niigata, Toa Payoh Stadium, 7.30pm

Albirex Niigata had their best season to date last year when the White Swans swooped and won two of the three trophies in Singapore football. This season, they are going for a treble.

The league-leading Japanese side will be aiming to maintain their perfect start to the season by notching a third straight win when they meet Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium tonight.

Despite losing key players in the off-season, notably 2015 Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure to Hougang United, the White Swans have coped well with a new-look squad, stunning defending champions Brunei DPMM 3-2 and crushing a hapless Garena Young Lions 5-0.

Speaking to The Straits Times after a training session yesterday, coach Naoki Naruo revealed the team's ambitions for this season.

 

"Our main target for this season is to win the league title," said the 41-year-old, who had a previous coaching stint with the club back in 2009, when they finished seventh. "We have a good mix of new and old players. With teamwork, they can continue to show their best performance on the pitch."

Veteran goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa was similarly ambitious.

"Last year, we wanted to win the league but we only managed to win the two Cups so that's why we want to do better this year by winning three titles," said the 36-year-old.

Albirex and Balestier faced each other six times last year, with the former winning four times while the latter claimed the other two games. But Albirex are wary of underestimating their opponents, despite the Tigers losing their two foreign imports to injury.

"This game against Balestier will be the most difficult game of our first three games," said Nozawa.

Atsushi Kawata, the four-goal hero against the Young Lions, concurred: "Every one of the (seven) local clubs are stronger than last season so to me, all of them are of the same strength.

"Even though Balestier have changed their players, they still have a physical style of play, which is very challenging for us."

Winger-turned-striker Kawata leads the S-League scoring chart and has been one of the revelations of the season so far. His form has helped Albirex cope with the loss of Kogure and it could be down to Naruo placing heavier scoring responsibilities on the 23-year-old.

"I want him to be the top scorer in the league. As a team, we want to fully utilise his abilities and I think he will be able to show his talent this season," said the coach.

Kawata notched six goals in the league last season but already has four goals after two games this year. "Now that the coach has made me the team's central striker, it is very important that I continue to score," he said. "I think I can contribute like how Fumiya did."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Albirex want a clean sweep this season'. Print Edition | Subscribe