Albirex almost through, after Home win
Japanese outfit all but in the semi-finals as Protectors mull what might have been
ALBIREX NIIGATA 2
(Itsuki Yamada 80, Kento Nagasaki 90+3)
HOME UNITED 0
When his players took to the Jurong East Stadium field last night, Home United coach Philippe Aw stood on the touchline in prayer.
His men were up against Albirex Niigata in their opening game of The New Paper League Cup and there was already much at stake.
With amateur side Sporting Westlake the only other team in Group C, the winners last night would all but confirm their spot in the semi-finals, as only the top side advance.
There was nothing to celebrate for the visitors at the end, though, as Albirex scored late twice to seal a 2-0 win.
"I'm very disappointed, because I thought we dominated proceedings tonight," said Aw.
"But if you don't score, it doesn't matter how well you do. You'll just get hit on the counter, and your hard work will come undone."
Albirex took the initiative early on, with Fumiya Kogure slicing his shot wide from the edge of the box.
Five minutes later, Home captain Juma'at Jantan had a go himself, but his piledriver also went wide.
That was as good as it got in the first half, the second period served up a treat, with Home hitting the woodwork twice.
First, Ambroise Begue sent an exquisite curler crashing off the crossbar, before Kamel Ramdani's rasping drive hit the upright.
Then came Albirex's breakthrough, as defender Itsuki Yamada took advantage of slack defending to weave his way into the box and slot home.
In stoppage time, substitute Kento Nagasaki summoned up a moment of genius to weave his way through the Home defence and curl his effort into the top corner with virtually the last kick of the game.
"I admit, Home played very well. They pressed and attacked, but were just unlucky not to score," said Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama.
"I thought it would be a difficult game, and we felt that if we won this one, it would boost our Cup aspirations.
"Now we can focus and plan ahead.
"For the next game, we don't know much about Sporting Westlake, but we are confident."
Aw, however, cannot afford such thoughts.
Albirex face the amateurs in their second group fixture on Friday, while Home meet them on July 1.
"We weren't efficient today," said Aw.
"It will be very difficult to see Sporting (Westlake) beat Albirex.
"It will be a very big ask, and we paid the price today. It was unfortunate, because we just got hit tonight. For the next game, all we can do is just go out and give the crowd a good game."