New-look rivals, same targets

Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga and Tampines coach Jurgen Raab with the Community Shield their teams will contest tomorrow.
Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga and Tampines coach Jurgen Raab with the Community Shield their teams will contest tomorrow.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Tampines want hot start against quadruple winners Albirex in Community Shield

A new S-League season has brought with it fresh changes at Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers.

Both clubs have welcomed new managers and have replaced many of their key players. Despite the sweeping developments, their goal remains the same; to win trophies.

Albirex swept all four pieces of silverware on offer last year and Tampines coach Jurgen Raab said his immediate target for his team this campaign is to stop the White Swans from repeating the feat.

The Stags can land the first blow with victory in tomorrow's Community Shield when both sides clash at the National Stadium. Besides lifting the shield, three valuable points will be at stake as the game also doubles up as the opening match of the 2017 season.

Raab, who took over the reins from Akbar Nawas on Feb 1, said at yesterday's press conference: "Our target is to break Albirex's record, going against the champions who won all four trophies last year."

The 58-year-old German added: "I think Albirex's playing style would be similar to last year's. They are aggressive and fit. They can go strong for 90 minutes. They're quick with the ball. And I know that they would try to press us in our own half.

"But I'm confident that our players will show commitment to win this match, and to show that we're able to beat them."

He noted that new signing and striker Khairul Amri, who scored in the 2-1 win over Felda United in their AFC Cup opening group match on Tuesday, lacks match fitness and will start from the bench.

Marquee signing Jermaine Pennant had left the club along with Billy Mehmet and Jordan Webb in the off-season but new South Korean import Son Yong Chan, who also scored in midweek, has started well.

Confidence was high, said centre-back Madhu Mohana. "It's good to get our first win this season, we all played well, we kept the ball, we kept possession, good to be coming into a big game like this with a victory behind us."

History favours their opponents. Albirex won three of their five competitive meetings last year, including the most recent, a 2-0 win in the Singapore Cup final. The Japanese outfit also won the S-League championship, League Cup and season-opening Shield.

Despite retaining just eight players from last year's squad, new coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga - who replaced S-League Coach of the Year Naoki Naruo - was bullish about his team's prospects.

He said: "I haven't watched any of last year's matches. I will do things my way."

Atsushi Kawata and Tatsuro Inui, Albirex's top two scorers last term with 13 and 10 league goals respectively, have left the club.

But there is still enough quality, said captain Shuto Inaba: "Last year's team were strong. But this year, when I look at my team-mates' skill level and technical level, they are equally high."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'New-look rivals, same targets'. Print Edition | Subscribe