SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE
Albirex Niigata 5 Young Lions 1
Albirex Niigata coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga was stern-faced and did not hide his disappointment with his players even after they crushed the Young Lions 5-1 yesterday at the Jurong East Stadium for their 17th win in a row.
The all-conquering Japanese side are top of the nine-team Singapore Premier League standings on 51 points, 21 points ahead of Tampines Rovers, who drew 1-1 with Brunei DPMM in the other game yesterday.
Yoshinaga's men could seal a third straight title if they defeat Balestier on Sunday or the Bruneian team drop points against Home United on Saturday.
But, first, Yoshinaga wants to see improvement in his charges.
"This match is our worst match," the Japanese tactician said through a translator. "We have to improve our performance. If we continue to have this kind of bad match, we will never have a future."
The reigning Coach of the Year did not want to comment further on the game, which saw Albirex falling behind before winning with a five-goal salvo.
To neutralise the White Swans' technical and tactical brilliance, the Young Lions opted to frustrate them with man-to-man marking before hitting on the counter once possession was won.
That determined approach was rewarded in the 28th minute when midfielder Zulqarnaen Suzliman crossed into the box for fellow midfielder Hami Syahin to trap before volleying into the net.
But the joy was short-lived as the hosts regrouped and scored five goals through Kenya Takahashi, Taku Morinaga (two), Shohei Hoshino and Daiki Asaoka.
"We went old-school with man-to-man marking," said Young Lions coach Fandi Ahmad.
"We showed good tactical discipline to close them down, Albirex struggled to open up our defence but, once their first goal went in, we crumbled."
Fandi paid tribute to Yoshinaga's team, saying: "They are a machine. They have so many ideas going forward, their technique is superb, they have composure. They know when to strike, when to hold and they can dictate the tempo.
"None of the local teams can match them now but I hope Tampines Rovers or Home United can rise up (to the challenge)."