Rejuvenated Albirex ready for more club glory
Albirex vice-chairman Koh blames complacency for recent slump, says players have learnt their lesson
|GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL||ALBIREX NIIGATA|
After a barnstorming start to the season, Albirex Niigata looked set to sweep all before them.
Then came an unexpected three-game wobble that saw their lead in the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League cut to two points, and a lacklustre start to their The New Paper League Cup campaign.
During this period, the White Swans lost 2-0 to league title rivals Home United and 2-1 to unfancied Hougang United, before being held to a goalless draw against Hougang in their opening League Cup Group A match.
Albirex vice-chairman Koh Mui Tee believes that was just the wake-up call they needed and, based on the back-to-back cup wins the team have mustered since that sticky patch, he could be right.
Ahead of their League Cup semi-final clash with Geylang International at Jurong East Stadium tonight, Koh said: "We have defended this title once before, but the past is past - we want to do it again.
"If you are defending champions, everybody wants to beat you, so you just have to learn how to play like champions, learn what it takes to defend a title.
"One good example was the Hougang game.
"We played badly because the players were complacent.
"I won't mince my words, and neither will the chairman nor the coach. We cannot rest on our laurels like we have done."
Koh also feels that the recent stumbles will stand the side in good stead as they attempt to win the League Cup for a third successive year.
"The players have learnt their lesson, that we have to fight from the first minute to the final whistle. They have put that into action."
"In the last two games against Home and Warriors - two teams with good attacking players - we managed two clean sheets," added Koh, pointing to his team's final two Group A encounters - a 2-0 win over Warriors and a 1-0 triumph over Home.
"Hopefully, we can do that again against Geylang."
Geylang coach Noor Ali is aware that his team will head into tonight's fixture as the clear underdogs, but it suits him just fine.
Said the former Singapore international: "Albirex lost two different types of games, to Hougang and Home, and that was clearly their low point in the season, but they are after all the defending champions.
"They are the favourites, and I prefer being the underdog.
"Because this is a cup game, anything can happen."
Noor Ali knows a thing or two about turning in a solid performance in a knock-out clash.
As captain, he led the 2009 Geylang side to victory in the RHB Singapore Cup final against Thai giants Bangkok Glass. It remains the Eagles' last major trophy.
Geylang missed the chance to top Group B and face Warriors FC in the semi-finals instead, after they squandered a 3-1 lead against Brunei DPMM in their last group match last Friday to eventually draw 3-3.
But Noor Ali is adamant it doesn't matter who they play.
He said: "If you want to be champions, you have to beat the best, so it's no difference to me, really.
"There's only one target, to win the cup, and there's no guarantee that we'd win even if we face any other team.
"I have a plan for Albirex, but what I really need is for my players to believe.
"I told them, 'Don't fear Albirex'. They are a good team, but so are we.
"So let's just go out there, follow our plan and fight for the win to get us into the final and a shot at a trophy."