RHB SINGAPORE CUP FINAL
Albirex Niigata 4
Brunei DPMM 1
Another year, another clean sweep. For the third season in a row, Albirex Niigata claimed every available trophy in Singapore professional football.
Yesterday, the Japanese team lifted the RHB Singapore Cup after a convincing 4-1 win over Brunei DPMM at the Jalan Besar Stadium to add to the Singapore Premier League (SPL) title and Community Shield won earlier. The League Cup was not contested this season.
In 2016 and last year, the White Swans conquered all before them by completing an unprecedented double quadruple. This season, they are also the first team in the S-League/SPL's history to complete an entire campaign unbeaten after notching 21 wins and three draws in 24 games.
But Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga, at the helm since last season, sees signs that Singapore football is improving.
He said: "Last year, a lot of Singaporean players cannot last 90 minutes, but their fitness has improved this season.
"And there are not many easy matches for us. Most of the Singaporean players are of a good level and they have to work harder and get stronger in their mentality.
"I believe the Singaporean players will keep on improving."
On the pitch, it was Albirex all the way from the first whistle. Only 10 minutes had gone when they led through captain Wataru Murofushi, who arrived late in the box to sweep the ball home.
Singapore international Adam Swandi netted the second in the 33rd minute when the attacking midfielder collected Shun Kumagai's cushion header before drilling past goalkeeper Haimie Nyaring.
Albirex's relentless high press paid off in the 63rd minute when DPMM were unable to play their way out of the defence and the ball fell to midfielder Murofushi, who calmly stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
And, in the 72nd minute, a cross from left-back Kenya Takahashi was teed up by Kumagai once again and midfielder Hiroyoshi Kamata was unmarked to blast into the net.
The Bruneian side scored a consolation goal three minutes from time when a cross from the left was not dealt with and midfielder Azwan Ali Rahman thumped the ball past the fingertips of 39-year-old goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, who will leave the club after the final.
DPMM coach Rene Weber said: "They (Albirex) deserve to win, we must recognise that the opponent is stronger."
But the Brazilian coach believes the dominance of Albirex is food for thought for the local fraternity, saying: "When you have a one team that is two or maybe five steps ahead, you have to think if this is good for the competition. We must do a big analysis on how to develop players for the future."
Despite masterminding a near-perfect campaign, Yoshinaga is demanding more from himself.
Gesturing with his fingers, the 50-year-old said: "Three draws. Every game that I don't win, I have to reflect. Football is a very cruel and harsh sport and a coach must always improve.
"The players had done well to achieve such records but, as a coach, I am always looking for perfection."
Earlier, Balestier Khalsa won the third-place play-off against Home United. The teams were tied 2-2 at full-time before the Tigers won 5-4 on penalties.