Home United snap Albirex Niigata’s title-winning streak

Home United players mob Hami Syahin after he converted the penalty in the shoot-out. Home beat Albirex 5-4 on penalties to win the Singapore Premier League Community Shield at Jalan Besar Stadium last night.
Home United players mob Hami Syahin after he converted the penalty in the shoot-out. Home beat Albirex 5-4 on penalties to win the Singapore Premier League Community Shield at Jalan Besar Stadium last night.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Japanese side's three-year, 11-trophy run finally broken in Community Shield shoot-out

The long trophy streak has, at long last, been broken.

After hoovering up all 11 trophies on offer in the previous three seasons, Albirex Niigata finally tasted defeat when Home United triumphed 5-4 on penalties to lift the Community Shield last night as the new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season kicked off.

The season curtain-raiser, played before 4,626 fans at Jalan Besar Stadium, ended goalless after 90 minutes and no extra time was played.

But it was a new SPL rule that was a talking point for the White Swans, apart from a rare defeat.

For this campaign, the Japanese club have to sign at least four Singaporean players, with at least two of them starting and playing the entire first half.

Against Home, Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi started with Firas Irwan and Zamani Zamri in wide midfield at the beginning. But both were replaced respectively by Sota Sugiyama and Shuhei Sasahara at the break.

HOME AMBITION

I told the boys from the beginning that we want to go for the title. There will be lots of hard matches and we have to take care of ourselves physically and mentally.

SASWADIMATA DASUKI, Home United coach, hoping to make a bang this season.

The tactician explained: "When we were preparing for this match, it (replacing the two local players at half-time) was already in our plans.

"The two boys are very young, still only 18. They helped to keep the shape (of the team) and worked very hard but, in the second half, I wanted to retain more possession.

"That's why I brought on the Japanese players, who are able to retain the ball better."

With or without the local players, what was noticeable yesterday was a change in Albirex's style.

Swaggering and stylish, they won the SPL after an unprecedented unbeaten campaign that saw them win 21 and draw three of their 24 fixtures last term. Also, apart from their consecutive clean sweeps from 2016 to 2018, Albirex did a double in 2015 by winning the Singapore and League Cups to totally dominate the local scene.

Against Home yesterday, Albirex played more direct balls out of defence, did not press as intensely and the backline struggled with clearing the ball at times.

Shigetomi said: "It was a very difficult game. It was very tight defensively and there's not much space on the pitch."

Home's Hami Syahin was the man who denied the White Swans their space in attack.

An attacking midfielder by vocation, the 20-year-old impressed in a deep-lying role and buzzed all over midfield to recover possession.

In a scrappy first half, chances were few as both sides sized each other up with a series of crunching tackles.

The best chance of the game fell to the Protectors in the 35th minute, but Shahril Ishak was unable to connect with the teasing cross from Iqram Rifqi, with goalkeeper Kengo Fukudome beaten.

Both teams missed two of their first five kicks during the shoot-out.

At the sudden-death stage, it was Hami who scored the decisive attempt after defender Naruki Takahashi's effort rebounded off the bar.

Home's gritty win delighted their new head coach Saswadimata Dasuki, who said: "In terms of effort and commitment, the boys put in a great performance.

"They really want to fight for their places. And we have senior players like Shahril, Juma'at (Jantan) and Izzdin (Shafiq) guiding the youngsters.

"Even at 0-0, we did not panic as we controlled our emotions and tempo.

"I told the boys from the beginning that we want to go for the title. There will be lots of hard matches and we have to take care of ourselves physically and mentally."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 24, 2019, with the headline 'Home snap Albirex’s title-winning streak'. Print Edition | Subscribe