TNP LEAGUE CUP FINAL
Albirex Niigata 1
Warriors FC 0 (after extra time)
It could have been a shock victory for the underdogs, who missed a penalty in regulation time and had two goals disallowed for offside in extra time.
But it was the two-time defending champions Albirex Niigata who eked out a 1-0 extra-time win at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night to clinch The New Paper League Cup trophy for a third straight year.
It was the second successful trophy defence for the White Swans this season.
The Japanese side won all four trophies at stake last year, and began this season by retaining the Singapore Community Shield.
"We were a bit lucky today, but you can also say that we made our own luck through our hard work," said Albirex coach Yoshinaga Kazuaki.
"The players never gave up and kept running, which was great credit to them as we've played almost the whole season with the same starting XI."
For much of the game, however, it had looked as if the Warriors would make the decisive breakthrough, even though they had lost to Albirex in both their meetings this year.
As early as the 12th minute, Romanian striker Andrei-Cosmin Ciolacu blasted the ball over after a cut-back by Canadian winger Jordan Webb, who was a constant menace down the left flank.
The young Albirex players seemed to be overawed by the occasion, repeatedly booting the ball towards striker Tsubasa Sano, who was dealt with comfortably by the Warriors' defensive duo of Baihakki Khaizan and Kento Fukuda.
While they fared better in the second half, the Warriors were awarded an 80th-minute penalty after a goalmouth scramble saw an Albirex defender handle the ball.
Up stepped Webb, but his weak spot-kick was saved by Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nazawa, before Shahril Ishak blasted the rebound over the crossbar, much to the former national skipper's dismay.
The Warriors continued to dominate in extra time, but were twice denied goals for offside.
Then, in the 110th minute, Warriors goalkeeper Hyrulnizam Juma'at could only palm the ball into the path of Sano, who could hardly believe his luck as he prodded the ball in from point-blank range.
With the win, Albirex overtake Brunei DPMM as the most successful team in the League Cup, with four titles to DPMM's three.