Football: Joy could end with swan song

Albirex Niigata win in penalty shoot-out, but quadruple winners reveal funding concerns

Albirex Niigata celebrating after beating Global FC 3-1 on penalties (2-2 after extra time) yesterday. Because the S-League is yet to hear about funding for next year, the all-conquering squad's future is uncertain.
Albirex Niigata celebrating after beating Global FC 3-1 on penalties (2-2 after extra time) yesterday. Because the S-League is yet to hear about funding for next year, the all-conquering squad's future is uncertain.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO


Albirex Niigata 2

Global FC 2

(Albirex win 3-1 on penalties)

Another season, another quadruple. So it came to pass that for the second year running, Japanese club Albirex Niigata swept all four trophies in Singapore football to continue their dominance here.

The White Swans defeated Global FC of the Philippines 3-1 on penalties (2-2 after extra time) in the RHB Singapore Cup final before an estimated crowd of 3,000 at the Jalan Besar Stadium, to make it another full house of silverware after their earlier triumphs in the Community Shield, League Cup and S-League.

Albirex are also the first club to win the Singapore Cup three times in a row.

But as the S-League waits to find out the quantum of its funding from the Tote Board, the uncertainty could perhaps lead to the break-up of this year's all-conquering squad.

Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga told The Sunday Times: "I sent my proposal (for the 2018 season) to the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) several times. This week, I called them every day asking for updates. But there has been no new information.

"I need to tell my players about the situation honestly. I have no choice but to tell them that they are free to look for a new club."

But the 40-year-old, who has been at the helm of the Jurong East-based club for a decade, dismissed any possibility of Albirex quitting the S-League after 14 seasons here.

"Definitely no," he said. "We want to stay in the S-League and we want to be the leaders in terms of quality.

"We want to make a positive contribution to Singapore football. We want to help Singapore produce more young local players. I hope we can be allowed to train a few young players, get them to learn the right things like discipline and hard work and hopefully, they will be good enough to play for Singapore."

Against Global, who are coached by Singaporean and ex-Tampines Rovers tactician Akbar Nawas, Albirex chipped away with their methodical passing game.

The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute when forward Tsubasa Sano found space in the box and drilled a powerful low shot into the bottom corner. Global equalised three minutes after the break through Brazilian midfielder Wesley Dos Santos' header.

Albirex took the lead again five minutes into extra time when playmaker Kento Nagasaki pounced on a loose ball after a parry from goalkeeper Patrick Deyto to stroke the ball home for the winner. But in the 108th minute, forward Paolo Salenga shrugged off his marker to glance the ball into the net off another effective set-piece play.

In the shoot-out, Global missed three of their four attempts, with goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa's save from Salenga being decisive.

Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga added: "It (the quadruple) is a fantastic achievement. The players have worked very hard throughout the year and it's a good experience that everyone enjoyed. They may now move on to different clubs.

"Global is not much different from an S-League team but they have more (of a) 'never say die' spirit. We conceded two goals (against Global) from set plays. That is a message to me to reflect on my coaching ability. I have to improve our defending."

Yoshinaga's men took the championship with 62 points from 24 games, losing just twice and ending the campaign eight points ahead of runners-up Tampines Rovers. They were also the highest scorers with 70 goals and the meanest defence with just 16 conceded. Sano is also the league's top scorer with 26 strikes.

Already, playmaker Kento Nagasaki is believed to be heading to Thailand's top flight.

Akbar said: "We came here with a plan. Credit has to go to the players for chasing every Albirex player for 120 minutes. They never gave up and it was unfortunate that the game had to go to penalties. But Albirex also showed that they are not champions for nothing.

"It has been challenging but engaging to coach (a team with a thin squad and limited resources) but it has made me dig deep as a coach. To reach this final is an achievement. I understand my constraints but this cannot be my excuse."

•The play-off for third place between Home United and Hougang United was postponed until today because of rain.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 26, 2017, with the headline 'Joy could end with swan song'. Subscribe