Football: Albirex Niigata are the first champions of the Singapore Premier League

Albirex Niigata's Wataru Murofushi (right) and Balestier Khalsa's Huzaifah Aziz fighting for the ball during their SPL match on July 22, 2018.
Albirex Niigata's Wataru Murofushi (right) and Balestier Khalsa's Huzaifah Aziz fighting for the ball during their SPL match on July 22, 2018.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Albirex Niigata had brushed aside every single local side in the Singapore Premier League this year, with a perfect record of 17 wins in 17 games, until Sunday (July 22).

And Balestier Khalsa became the first team to take points off the soaring White Swans this season, securing a 1-1 draw at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Sunday evening, but it was not enough to prevent the Japanese side from securing the inaugural SPL title.

It was the third straight year that Albirex had been crowned the kings of Singapore football, after they won the S-League (the SPL's predecessor) in 2016 and 2017.

Albirex's closest challengers are Tampines Rovers who will have a maximum of 51 points should they win all their remaining six games, but the result saw Albirex hit 52 points, beyond the reach of the Stags.

Despite SPL regulations seeing the Japanese assemble a virtually new squad with half their players aged below 23 and the other half below 21, Albirex have continued their domination of Singapore football, securing two of the three trophies on offer this year.

They won the Community Shield in March, beating Tampines 2-1 at the National Stadium, kicking off a winning streak that was finally stopped on Sunday evening.

The RHB Singapore Cup is the only other trophy left on offer in domestic football.

Albirex were in full control in the first half, with set-piece specialist Kenya Takahashi scoring with a 31st-minute free kick that Balestier 'keeper Zaiful Nizam should have done better with.

Kazuaki Yoshinaga's side struggled to fashion clear opportunities against a Balestier team resolute in defence, and they were punished shortly after the break.

Hazzuwan Halim was the home side's biggest threat all evening, and within two minutes of the restart, he equalised with a sensational dipping volley from the top of the box.

Both teams had opportunities to win the game, but were stopped by a combination of profligacy and poor finishing.