Juggling title hopes on 3 fronts

Victory today will ensure Albirex remain on course to complete historic Quadruple win

As his Albirex Niigata side prepare to take on Brunei DPMM in The New Paper League Cup final today, coach Naoki Naruo believes they could be halfway towards an unprecedented Quadruple triumph this season.

The defending champions will look to win their second trophy this season, after clinching the Community Shield in February's season opener - also against Brunei DPMM - when they won 3-2.

A confident Naruo said: "I'm confident Albirex will do well and we will come away with the trophy. This will be a good boost to our season as we aim to win four titles.

"Since the start of the season, the Quadruple was our aim and a win (today) means we're halfway there."

Albirex are four points clear of Tampines Rovers at the S-League summit with eight matches left and will meet Balestier Khalsa in the RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals.

"There's no pressure on us to retain the title but there is pressure to show our style of football. We want to defend from the front, move the ball around to create chances and score goals. I want to dominate the game," Naruo said.

Striker Atsushi Kawata, training before today's Cup final, wants to head Albirex to a second title this season. The S-League leaders have won the Community Shield and are in the Singapore Cup semis.
Striker Atsushi Kawata, training before today's Cup final, wants to head Albirex to a second title this season. The S-League leaders have won the Community Shield and are in the Singapore Cup semis. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Despite wins in their last two meetings against S-League holders DPMM, Naruo is far from complacent and still expects a tough contest.

The 41-year-old said: "Brunei's counter-attack is very strong and it's very difficult to guess who is going to score first."

Striker Atsushi Kawata, who fired Albirex into the final with his hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Tampines in the semi-final, added: "This will be the second time we're facing Brunei in a final setting.

"They will know us well so we can't be too overconfident against them.

"Our target has always been to win all four titles in the season. Winning our second trophy (today) will be crucial and a major step forward in our quadruple challenge."

As for DPMM, they are chasing a record fourth League Cup after previous wins in 2009, 2012 and 2014.

Coach Steve Kean hopes a win today will be the catalyst for his squad to finish their season strongly.

Kean, whose DPMM side lie third in the league and trail leaders Albirex by 16 points, said: "Records are always nice but what's more important is winning the trophy for this team.

"We've had a poor start to the season but I think we've done well progressively to find our feet - we've performed in this competition and are better defensively now.

"Albirex are an excellent side but we'll give it our best go. Winning the Cup will be a massive morale boost to the players and will spur us on to finish our season strongly."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Juggling title hopes on 3 fronts'. Print Edition | Subscribe