MatchOfTheWeek

Midfield maestros in the spotlight

Albirex Niigata's key man is captain and playmaker Kyoga Nakamura, while Singapore Premier League leaders Brunei DPMM will count on midfielder Blake Ricciuto to deliver the goods.
Albirex Niigata's key man is captain and playmaker Kyoga Nakamura (above), while Singapore Premier League leaders Brunei DPMM will count on midfielder Blake Ricciuto to deliver the goods.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Albirex Niigata's key man is captain and playmaker Kyoga Nakamura, while Singapore Premier League leaders Brunei DPMM will count on midfielder Blake Ricciuto to deliver the goods.
Albirex Niigata's key man is captain and playmaker Kyoga Nakamura, while Singapore Premier League leaders Brunei DPMM will count on midfielder Blake Ricciuto (above) to deliver the goods.ST FILE PHOTO

SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

Albirex Niigata v Brunei DPMM Jurong East, 8.30pm

First versus third in the Singapore Premier League (SPL) tonight at the Jurong East Stadium, and both sides will be counting on the two most in-form players in the league to sparkle again.

Leaders Brunei DPMM will rely on Australian midfielder Blake Ricciuto, winner of the player and goal of the month awards for April, while Albirex will turn to 23-year-old playmaker Kyoga Nakamura, named the best young player.

Their individual brilliance might well be needed given that their March 15 game was a tight affair that ended goal-less after DPMM's Najib Tarif was sent off early in the second half.

Both coaches have their opposing danger men well-scouted.

Said Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi: "(Ricciuto) is a good player. His strengths are his height and strength, and he has good momentum, too."

The 1.80m, 81kg Ricciuto has six goals in 10 games this season, with five coming in the last six matches.

DPMM coach Adrian Pennock hailed his star for his boundless stamina.

  • OTHER SPL FIXTURES

  • TOMORROW

    Warriors FC v Hougang United Jurong East, 8.30pm

    Tampines Rovers v Geylang International Our Tampines Hub, 8.30pm

    SUNDAY

    Balestier Khalsa v Home United Bishan, 8.30pm

 

"He has fantastic energy and, for a central midfielder, he really gets around the pitch," said the English coach of the 26-year-old, who last played for New South Wales-based semi-professional side Rockdale City Suns.

"The other thing is his character. He has a very good head on his shoulders and that's very important coming into a new country, new league and new culture.

"I didn't want my import players to take 10 games to settle. By then, it'd be nearly half the season gone. That Blake is scoring goals and looking very dangerous hasn't surprised me."

Ricciuto's goals have helped DPMM to an unbeaten start, picking up 26 points in 10 games. Albirex have 17 points in nine games.

Former Stoke City assistant manager Pennock noted that Albirex have their own goalscoring midfield star.

Nakamura, who played for Japan in the Under-17 World Cup in 2013, scored the first and last goals in a 4-0 win over Home United, before scoring both goals in a 2-0 win over Geylang International. He last played in Japan's third-tier J3 league with YSCC Yokohama.

"He's a lovely footballer, and I like watching him," said Pennock. "His balance is very good, he's got a wonderful left foot, and he's one of the best players in the league.

"Obviously, he's a danger, but there are 10 other players we have to worry about as well because Albirex are a very good side."

Shigetomi believes there is more to come from his skipper, saying: "He is still getting used to the physical demands of the SPL."

Pennock is still confident despite missing four players - the trio of Nur Ikhwan Othman, Azwan Ali, and Abdul Azizi Ali are suspended, while Hendra Azam remained in Brunei for the birth of his child.

He said: "It's not the end of the world if we lose, and there are still a lot of games to play. We've put ourselves in a good position and the most important thing is for the boys to show up and perform."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2019, with the headline 'Midfield maestros in the spotlight'. Print Edition | Subscribe