Albirex's Sano out to make amends
Japanese hitman determined to make up for lost time following two-game suspension
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||HOME UNITED|
Tsubasa Sano's introduction to the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League has been nothing short of spectacular.
With 21 goals in all competitions in his debut season, Sano has been propelling Albirex Niigata towards a second Quadruple in as many years.
It came as little surprise then, that his absence through a recent two-match suspension was sorely felt by the league leaders.
During this period, Kazuaki Yoshinaga's men could muster only two goals, or one every 90 minutes.
This is in stark contrast to Albirex's scoring prowess when he was available - the team have scored a goal every 37.8 minutes with him on the pitch.
Having served his ban, he looks set to return to the starting 11 when the Japanese side take on Home United in the first leg of the RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals at Jurong East Stadium tonight.
The 22-year-old striker is determined to make up for lost time, after missing the 1-0 away win over Brunei DPMM on Sept 16 and last Tuesday's 1-1 away draw with Home in what was arguably the biggest S.League game of the season.
"Of course, as I was watching the game (against Home United) from the stands, I was feeling I would much rather be on the pitch helping the team," said Sano, who copped his suspension after being sent off for lashing out at an opponent in the 1-0 win over Garena Young Lions on Sept 8.
"I regretted I could not be out on the field with my teammates.
"Firstly, I want to apologise to my team for causing an inconvenience. Tomorrow is a home game for us, so the whole team badly want to win. I hope I get selected in the first 11 and contribute by scoring."
The Shizuoka native's 18 league goals has fired him to second spot in the top-scorer's chart and his three goals in The New Paper League Cup helped the team lift the domestic cup in July.
But coach Yoshinaga pointed out that Sano brings more than just goals to the White Swans.
"He is, of course, a very good goal-getter," said the former Shimizu S-Pulse coach.
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"But, more than that, he is also our first line of defence.
"I have told him I want him to play like how Shinji Okazaki does for Leicester City in the English Premier League."
On tonight's first-leg clash, Yoshinaga also brushed aside suggestions that his side have a mental edge over the Protectors.
Home are 13 points behind Albirex in the S.League - albeit with three games in hand - and needed to beat the Japanese side in their S.League match eight days ago to stand a realistic chance of pipping them to the league crown.
The 1-1 draw, however, boosted Albirex's hopes of retaining the S.League title they won for the first time last season.
But, Yoshinaga said: "This is a cup game, so Home's previous results - be it against us or Geylang (a 3-1 win last Saturday) - do not matter and I don't believe they have an effect on the Home players' mentality.
"The Home players have a lot of pride, so they will be out to beat us tomorrow.
"Anyway, I view tomorrow's match as just one half (of the two-legged semi-final tie).
"Our players will have to be on their best concentration and take whatever we have done in training onto the pitch."