Albirexperience for title fight
Japanese side sign former J-League players Nozawa and Kogure in a bid for S.League glory
ALBIREX v TAMPINES
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jurong East Stadium)
Apart from challenging for top honours in the Great Eastern- Yeo’s S.League, Albirex Niigata’s other priority has been to blood up-and-coming Japanese footballers.
Aspiring players who slipped through the youth set-ups of the professional teams back home would be able to use Albirex’s S.League side for a second crack at a professional career.
It has meant that the club have mostly featured young squads since they joined the S.League in 2004.
A serious bid for the league crown is on the cards, though, as the Japanese side prepare to host hot favourites Tampines Rovers in their opening match tonight at the Jurong East Stadium.
Albirex have signed two experienced players who have played in the J-League for this season’s campaign.
In Yosuke Nozawa, the White Swans have a veteran goalkeeper with over 323 J.League appearances (96 in the top flight, 227 in J2), while Fumiya Kogure is a 25-year-old midfielder who made his professional debut as a 19-year-old and even played 20 games for Albirex’s senior side in 2011.
Both will be expected to play key roles this season, especially Nozawa, 35.
“I wasn’t part of the team last year so I cannot comment on what the goalkeeping situation was like, but my aim is to be first choice this year,” said Nozawa.
Asked if he also wanted to establish himself as the competition’s top shotstopper, he replied: “Yes, best in the S.League.”
Over the years, the likes of Kunihiro Yamashita, Atsushi Shimono, Kento Fukuda and Yuki Ichikawa have been signed by local S.League sides after impressing with the White Swans, while some have even earned a promotion to the J-League with the parent club.
Now, Kogure has been hired to try and deliver success in Singapore. The playmaker has been capped at every youth level for Japan and he is full of confidence.
“With my ability, I hope to contribute not only to my new team, but also to the S.League,” said Kogure, who cites Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo as his idol.
“There are many younger players in the team and, with my experience in the J.League, hopefully I can help guide them when they get the opportunity to play.”
Apart from the duo, Kento Nagasaki, Itsuki Yamada and Kento Fujihara — all retained from last season — are expected to play pivotal roles, while much is also expected from strikers Rion Taki and Atsushi Kawata, who played together at Hannan University.
Taki and Kawata, both of whom are expected to lead the line for the White Swans, will face competition off the bench from returning hitman Shotaro Ihata.
Ihata, who top-scored for Albirex in 2011 with 22 goals, returns after spells with Home United, Geylang International and Southern Myanmar over the past three years.
Coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama said Ihata is not yet at optimal condition, but is certain the 28-year-old can play a key role as Albirex look to mount a title charge.
“We have a team now who can play good attacking football,” said the coach. “First, we have to find the right balance between defence and attack.
“I am happy, though, that we have more experienced individuals compared to last season.
“Nozawa and Kogure will make a big difference to this team, who I believe can compete with the best in the S.League.”
Name: Yosuke Nozawa
Key achievement: Made 323 J.League appearances (96 in the top flight, 227 in J2)
Name: Fumiya Kogure
Key achievement: Capped at all youth levels for Japan
Ramazotti hat-trick fires DPMM top
One top Brazilian striker left Brunei DPMM at the end of last season, but it appears the club have found another.
Rafael Ramazotti hit a 29-minute hat-trick in his Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League debut for DPMM, as the Bruneians ran out 3-1 winners over Harimau Muda at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium in Bandar Seri Begawan last night.
The 26-year-old, who stands at 1.93m, bagged his goals in the 24th, 40th and 53rd minutes, and his impressive showing will allay DPMM fans' fears the club could struggle to replace Rodrigo Tosi, who top-scored last season's S.League with 24 goals.
Harimau Muda pulled back a goal right at the death through winger Ridzuan Abdunloh, who top-scored for the team last year with seven goals, but it proved little more than a consolation.
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ