White Swans are highest scorers
Albirex coach Naruo praises entire squad as White Swans become top goalscorers
It was fitting that Albirex Niigata secured the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title last night with a 3-0 win over Hougang United at Jalan Besar Stadium.
The convincing result, courtesy of goals by Atsushi Kawata, Masaya Jitozono and Rui Kumada, took them above Brunei DPMM as the highest-scoring team in the competition on 48, and there is no denying that the White Swans' lethal attack has been crucial in their successful title chase.
Asked if this was the key reason behind their historic title, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo was quick to spread the credit across the entire team.
"We defend well as a team and we have the mindset that we are the challengers, not the favourites," said the 42-year-old.
"As a result of this, we have been able to score the number of goals we've had this season.
"Today was a good example of that because we applied pressure on them in front of their own goal, and our attackers were then able to score three in the first half."
Although there are only 14 outfielders in the squad that Naruo usually calls upon, the fact that they have 12 different scorers in the league alone illustrates how many have delivered throughout the season.
"The season is very long and we have many different situations in each game," he explained.
"Sometimes, due to the scenario, we may switch things up a bit and rely on someone different to get the goals, so it is very important that every player plays his best and is ready to contribute."
Leading the way has been Kawata, who took his tally in all competition in 2016 to 19 with his fourth-minute opener last night.
Like his coach, the 24-year-old stressed how a concerted team effort had been the reason behind their success.
"Everybody has to focus on the defensive work… It's not just the players at the back but it has to start also with the attackers," said Kawata.
"If we accomplish that, it becomes easier to focus on the next part of scoring goals.
"Although I scored tonight, I failed to put away a lot of chances too and I will have to work at being more clinical to ensure the same doesn't happen in the Cup final."
Albirex have a great chance for a clean sweep of honours this season when they take on Tampines Rovers in the RHB Singapore Cup final on Oct 29.
Tatsuro Inui can't wait.
Last night was a special moment for Inui, who had spells with Warriors FC and Geylang International after initially playing for Albirex from 2010-11. He returned to Jurong East Stadium at the start of the year..
"I came back here to win the S.League title, so I'm very pleased to have achieved that exact target," said Inui, who is currently their second top-scorer with 12 goals.
"Our defence has been very good this year and we've conceded very few goals, which has in turn allowed the attacking players to concentrate more on scoring the goals.
"Each of us has different strengths and I think, when we all do our best, things fall in place naturally."
Asked if he would allow himself a quiet celebration before shifting his attention to the Singapore Cup final, Inui replied with a smile: "We actually have training tomorrow morning!
"There's no chance we'll be losing our focus until the very end."
White Swans fans ecstatic
Masahiro Mizokami has been supporting Albirex Niigata since moving to Singapore a decade ago.
Last night, he was beaming from ear to ear after the White Swans were crowned champions of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League following a 3-0 triumph over Hougang United.
Mizokami was at the Jalan Besar Stadium to witness the jubilant celebrations, although he will have to wait for their final game against Tampines Rovers on Oct 26 to see them lift the trophy.
"I've been a supporter for 10 years and, obviously, this is a fantastic moment," said the Osaka native, who named midfield general Shuto Inaba as his player of the season.
AT LAST: The fans (left) can finally celebrate the White Swans winning their first S.League title. TNP PHOTOS: PHYLLICIA WANG
"They have been excellent throughout the season and I just think they were too good for the rest of the competition.
"Now that we've won three trophies (including the Community Shield and TNP League Cup), of course I'm confident we can go on and win the RHB Singapore Cup in the final.
"The only problem is I'm worried where they'll find motivation from next season if we win everything on offer!"
Another ecstatic fan on hand to celebrate with the team was Manesh Lal, a half-Japanese who started following Albirex three years ago.
The 32-year-old explained: "My company and Albirex had some collaboration three years ago and, from then, I became a fan.
"The team had never won the S.League title before, so I was really looking forward to this game.
"A 3-0 win is definitely a good way to wrap up the title, but the season is not over yet.
"Hopefully, there is still more excitement to come in the final few games and we can finish with one final celebration by winning the Singapore Cup."
While there were plenty of Japanese fans in the Jalan Besar stands last night, some Singaporeans were also on hand to share in the celebrations.
Wilson Chia stays in Pasir Ris but he has been religiously making the journey to Albirex's home stadium in Jurong East each week, after falling in love with their style of play.
"I think it was in the 2012 season when they were still under the old coach (Koichi Sugiyama)," Chia replied, when asked to recount when he first supported the White Swans.
"I remember back then they played a passing game that was similar to Barcelona and it was unlike anything I had seen in local football.
"So even though I'm Singaporean, I decided to pledge my allegiance to Albirex.
"It has been a long wait for the club - 13 years - to finally to win the league title but, naturally, that makes this victory even sweeter."