SINGAPORE - They have assembled a new squad to play in the newly minted Singapore Premier League (SPL), but it was the same old Albirex Niigata.
The White Swans picked up exactly where they left off in 2017: with a win and yet another trophy, as they pipped Tampines Rovers 2-1 at the season-opening Community Shield at the National Stadium on Saturday (March 31).
"We want to target all trophies possible this year, that has always been our aim. But we've told the players it's not just enough to win all trophies, they have to improve in every match and aim higher than just winning trophies. Tomorrow we will start training and forget about today's match," said Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga.
"But today, they should celebrate this victory and express gratitude to those who have supported them."
It is an attitude that aspires to excellence, but Albirex - like Tampines - took a while to settle down at the National Stadium, which drew 18,942 spectators.
It was a forgettable, mistake-ridden 45 minutes of football before the game sprung to life.
It was a controversial 58th minute penalty that gave the game its first goal. Second half substitute Jordan Webb was alleged to have kicked Adam Swandi - Albirex's first Singaporean player - in the head.
Despite Tampines protests that Webb was on his way down from a challenge from Adam, referee Muhammad Taqi did not hesitate to point to the spot.
Taku Morinaga made no mistake, sending Tampines custodian Syazwan Buhari the wrong way.
Morinaga was a the centre of another moment that could have changed the game. Picking up on a through pass from Hiroyoshi Kamata, the 1.53m Morinaga appeared to have been dragged down by Tampines youngster Irfan Najeeb. But this time the referee was unconvinced.
The Stags needed an old head to drag them back into the game, with 36-year-old skipper Fahrudin Mustafic heading home a Yasir Hanapi corner in the 77th minute.
Morinaga popped up again, this time to provide the killer pass for Shuhei Hoshino to slot home, just a minute before full time.
"If you see, the boys in the Albirex team - they have quality and I think they are favourites for champions one more time," said a disappointed Tampines coach Jurgen Raab. "But we try to do our job, and the match has shown that we're in a good way."
He revealed that the Albirex winner perhaps came down to mistakes made by his own charges.
"We made it too easy for that second goal - it was one mistake too many from us - that was our failure, and we must first look too ourselves," he added.
"We must get better."