Home star Ilso looking to a great finale against Albirex
Home's Danish star looks to end fine debut season with a magical night
ALBIREX NIIGATA v HOME UNITED
(Tonight, 8pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
He arrived at Home United at the start of the year amid plenty of hype and Ken Ilso certainly has not disappointed.
Tonight, the Dane will be looking to deliver the goods one final time this season, when the Protectors take on Albirex Niigata in the RHB Singapore Cup final at Jalan Besar Stadium.
With 13 goals to his name in all competitions, Ilso - who is one of four nominees for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League's Player of the Year - has established himself as a star in Singapore football, even though he's had to cope with some niggling injuries in his first season.
His lethal finishing and ability to produce moments of brilliance should come as no surprise, considering he has played at the highest level in the German Bundesliga and Dutch Eredivisie.
While he has turned out for the likes of Fortuna Dusseldorf and Heerenveen, Ilso insists it will still be a special moment for him tonight, especially if Home emerge triumphant.
"I have a chance to win my first trophy in Singapore, which would mean a lot of me," he said, at yesterday's pre-match press conference.
"We're well prepared after a good performance in our last game against Brunei (DPMM).
"It wasn't an easy semi-final against the S.League champions, but we still managed to deliver a very good performance and showed a lot of heart, and we're going to need that heart again tomorrow.
"It's always a tactical battle against Albirex, but the heart we've been showing in the last couple of games could make the difference and I'm looking forward to it."
Despite their status as one of the Singapore football's traditional heavyweights, Home have won the S.League only twice in the competition's 20-year history, although they have fared much better in the Singapore Cup, with six titles to their name.
They missed a chance to add to their tally last year, when they fell to a shock 3-1 defeat by Balestier Khalsa in the final.
PAST IS PAST
Protectors' coach Philippe Aw insists setting out to make amends for last season's heartbreak is the farthest thing on his players' minds.
"What happened then is in the past," Aw explained.
"2015 is a new season with a new coach and a new team and we want to go in there and lift the cup for ourselves.
"The final will be a good chance for Home United to display the brand of football we've been playing this whole season.
"We're looking forward to it and the boys will be geared up to end the season on a winning note."
Like Aw, Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama says his side will not lack motivation tonight.
Having won the TNP League Cup earlier this year, the White Swans will be looking to make it a double by bagging their first RHB Singapore Cup.
"We came into this season aiming to win all three titles on offer and, unfortunately, we didn't win the league," said Okuyama.
"We did manage to win the League Cup and I think the experience of competing in such finals will stand the players in good stead.
"Tomorrow, we will be hugely motivated to add the Singapore Cup to our trophy cabinet."
It’s always a tactical battle against Albirex, but the heart we’ve been showing in the last couple of games could make the difference and I’m looking forward to it.
— Home United’s star forward Ken Ilso
BY THE NUMBERS
6 Home United have bagged the Singapore Cup a record six times since the competition was introduced in 1998. The Protectors won the knockout tournament in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2013.
Boost S.League by spreading LionsXII players across clubs
Next season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League could feature new challengers, if the LionsXII feature in the competition.
After the Football Association of Malaysia's (FAM) shock decision not to extend the Singapore team's participation in the country's club competitions, the other option is for local S.League clubs to sign LionsXII players for the 2016 season.
Home United coach Philippe Aw believes that would better serve the S.League.
Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the pre-match press conference for tonight's RHB Singapore Cup final against Albirex Niigata yesterday, Aw (photo) said: "I would suggest the LionsXII players be split up and spread across all the clubs.
"This will make each of the clubs more competitive, the level of competition will be raised and it would be good to watch."
Aw, who will be looking to cap off his first season as an S.League coach with an RHB Singapore Cup triumph tonight, believes the infusion of names like Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin and Gabriel Quak could help raise the interest in Singapore's only professional sports competition.
Said Aw: "What's important is that the whole S.League has to be revived. If teams can churn out exciting football day in and day out, the fans will keep coming back.
"If these (LionsXII) players come back and raise the level and all the clubs play exciting football, I think, given time, fans will turn up and we can revive the S.League."
- GABRIEL TAN