SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Albirex Niigata 2
Tampines Rovers 1
Fifty-three seconds. That was all it took for Tampines Rovers to end their slim hopes of toppling Singapore Premier League (SPL) leaders Albirex Niigata, in their top-of-the table clash at the Jurong East Stadium yesterday.
Shuhei Hoshino's easy finish within a minute of kick-off laid the foundation for a 2-1 win, which put Albirex in pole position for a third straight league title.
The Japanese side, who have won all their 16 games this season, can sew up the championship as early as Wednesday night, if they beat fourth-from-bottom Young Lions, and Tampines lose to fourth-placed Brunei DPMM in Bandar Seri Begawan the same night.
Stags coach Jurgen Raab lamented: "Again we started the game with the same procedure (Albirex scored after eight minutes in their 4-3 win against Tampines on May 20). We gave Albirex an early present. They are a strong team and so well-organised. If they lead, it is much more difficult to get something from the game."
Daiki Asaoka came close to adding a second for Albirex in the 21st minute after a powerful shot from 25m struck the upright. The visitors nearly equalised in the 40th minute, but winger Zulfadhmi Suzliman's effort was tipped onto the woodwork by Albirex shot-stopper Yosuke Nozawa.
But slack defending allowed Hoshino to extend his side's lead just five minutes after the restart as he was unmarked at the back post to score his 17th goal of the season.
Tampines winger Jordan Webb dribbled past three Albirex defenders to set up Khairul Amri in the 89th minute, but the strike proved mere consolation.
Said Raab: "In the second half, I told the players, 'Please don't sleep', but (Hoshino) was not watched, and he scored. But our players gave their all till the end, and that was good."
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga refused to be drawn into talking about his team's imminent title win, but praised his players for overcoming a "difficult game".
"My players did well to find space within the first minute and score," he said. "But, even after scoring in the first minute, I never thought it would be an easy game."
In last night's other match, the Young Lions beat Hougang United 3-0 with goals from Hami Syahin, Haiqal Pashia and Ikhsan Fandi.