Albirex down Home 2-1 in Singapore Cup final to make it a cup double
White Swans become first team to win Singapore Cup and TNP League Cup double
ALBIREX NIIGATA 2
(Rion Taki 78, Kento Nagasaki 87)
HOME UNITED 1
(Abdil Qaiyyim 72)
For a few minutes at least, it looked as if Home United could pull off a remarkable upset in last night's RHB Singapore Cup final against Albirex Niigata at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Reduced to 10 men just before the half-hour mark, they managed to take the lead through an Abdil Qaiyyim strike in the 72nd minute as the Protectors conjured up images of a record-extending seventh Cup triumph.
It was not to be, as Albirex pulled off a spirited comeback in the final 12 minutes, with goals from Rion Taki and Kento Nagasaki handing them a 2-1 win and their first Singapore Cup win.
The victory saw the White Swans become the first club to win both the Singapore Cup and the TNP League Cup in the same year.
Claiming he never doubted his side would emerge victorious, Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama was also satisfied that his gamble to leave Taki - his joint-top scorer in the Great Eastern Yeo's S.League - on the bench paid off.
"No, I was never worried," said Okuyama, after the game.
"Throughout the season, we've used different tactics and sometimes it's good for certain players to come off the bench and make an impact, rather than playing from the start.
"For this match, our strategy was to use Taki and Nagasaki as substitutes where they can have greater impact, and luckily it proved to be right.
"As a club, we want to build on our two cup triumphs, be stronger next season, and maybe even go one step further, by winning the S.League title."
In a tentative opening period for both teams, the main talking point came in the 25th minute when Protectors winger Fazli Ayob was shown a straight red for kicking out at Shun Inaba.
It was, however, Home who came closest to breaking the deadlock before half-time when Kamel Ramdani sent a brilliant dipping effort past Yosuke Nozawa, only to see the ball come back off the bar.
Although the White Swans gradually began to gain the upper hand in the contest, it was the Protectors who drew first blood in the 72nd minute.
A neat passing move down the right saw Yasir Hanapi break free and drill a cross into the box, with Abdil, having stayed forward following a corner, on hand to stab it home from a few metres out.
Home's dream of a Cup win lasted only six minutes, when Taki met Fumiya Kogure's corner with a bullet header that gave veteran goalkeeper Shahril Jantan no chance.
With three minutes remaining, the turnaround was complete as Taki turned provider, whipping in an excellent cross from the left that Nagasaki met with a lovely first-time volley into the back of the net for the winner.
Home coach Philippe Aw struggled to hide his disappointment at the final whistle, although he praised the 10 men on the field for giving it their all.
He said: "We came here to play our brand of football but, when we had a man sent off, it changed the game.
"It's disappointing because we had to totally change things because of one player, and I just hope he realises his mistake has cost the team a chance to display good football, to entertain the fans, and to lift the Cup.
"It was tough out there but the boys were outstanding and we even managed to take the lead.
"I'm very proud of the 10 players who fought on."
ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Hikaru Mizuno, Shun Inaba, Atsushi Kawata, Fumiya Kogure, Yusuke Mukai (Kento Nagasaki 78), Rui Kumada (Rion Taki 75).
HOME UNITED: Shahril Jantan, Juma'at Jantan, Abdil Qaiyyim, Sirina Camara, Sufianto Salleh (Ambroise Begue 76), Yasir Hanapi, Kamel Ramdani, Stanely Ng, Azhar Sairudin (Imran Sahib 86), Fazli Ayob, Ken Ilso.
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: