Albirex Niigata wins TNP League Cup
After lifting TNP League Cup, Japanese club target a quadruple
BRUNEI DPMM 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 2
(Rui Kamada 42, Atsushi Kawata 79)
Don't take your eyes off the local football scene because something special is brewing.
After beating Brunei DPMM 2-0 in The New Paper League Cup final at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, adding to their Community Shield victory over the same opponents, Albirex Niigata are now 11 games - eight in the S.League and three in the RHB Singapore Cup - away from a historic quadruple.
After successfully defending the League Cup and bagging the $30,000 prize money, the White Swans will enter the final phase of the S.League holding a four-point lead over Tampines Rovers at the summit, and the Japanese club are also in the final four of the Singapore Cup, which they won last year as well.
Looking ahead, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo is determined to achieve the improbable in the style they have displayed all season, including last night's pressure-cooker environment of a final in front of 2,010 fans.
"I don't think it will be easy, but we have to play our style and show our best performance," he said, after successfully tweaking his backline to accommodate three taller centre backs to negate the effectiveness of 1.93m tall DPMM striker Rafael Ramazotti.
Albirex came close to a complete team performance last night, demonstrating a deadly combination of fitness, flair and finishing.
The White Swans dictated pace at the start and when DPMM eventually settled down - forcing Yosuke Nozawa into smart stops - the White Swans absorbed the pressure well before hitting on the break, with wing backs Naofumi Tanaka and Mikiya Yamada working tirelessly on the overlap.
One such fluid build-up saw Rui Kamada turn Abdul Aziz Tamit expertly just outside the box before firing in an unstoppable right-footer into the top corner three minutes before half time.
A similar pattern resumed in the second half, with Albirex trying to go for the killer second goal early on.
Wardun Yussof saved well from Kento Nagasaki in the 63rd minute, but had Najib Tarif to thank for deflecting Tanaka's fierce drive off the line.
DPMM then had a chance to equalise but Adi Said could not beat Nozawa after bursting clear five minutes later.
There was to be no let-off when Atsushi Kawata headed in Nagasaki's corner in at the back post in the 79th minute for his 18th goal of the season to kill off the final.
With the league's meanest defence and this season's topscorer, DPMM coach Steve Kean feels Albirex are a good bet to complete their quadruple quest.
He said: "Ceres are an excellent team in the Singapore Cup but Albirex know how to play (even if they meet in the final). They benefit from having their own artificial pitch to train on.
"They are tough to beat and have added more experience to their squad, something that was lacking last season.
"They are strong from the back, where the experience, courage and ability of their goalkeeper give them a great advantage, so they are in a great position."
"I don’t think it will be easy, but we have to play our style and show our best performance"
- Albirex coach Naoki Naruo on their quadruple bid.
BRUNEI DPMM: Wardun Yussof, Helmi Zambin, Rosmin Kamis, Abdul Aziz Tamit (Shahrazen Said 72), Brian McLean, Najib Tarif, Adi Said, Maududi Kasmi (Hendra Azam 72), Paulo Sergio, Azwan Salleh, Rafael Ramazotti
ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine, Mikiya Yamada, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Tatsuro Inui (Hiroyoshi Kamata 60), Rui Kamada (Tomoki Menda 77), Atsushi Kawata
TNP Man of the Match: Naofumi Tanaka (Albirex Niigata)
Kean wants to stay with Brunei DPMM
When asked how he felt after his first barren season in three years in charge of Brunei DPMM FC, Steve Kean quickly quipped: "It's not over yet."
Be that as it may, the defending S.League champions are third in the league, 16 points adrift of leaders Albirex Niigata, who beat them 2-0 in The New Paper League Cup final last night.
Realistically, the defeat should end the Bruneian team's interest in all competitions this season, and despite his contract running out at the end of this term, Kean is keen to hang around for some time more.
"I'm in discussions with the club this week, and yes, I may continue as coach of DPMM," he confirmed with TNP post-match.
He conceded that after winning the League Cup in his first year in 2014, before guiding the club to their first S.League title last season, 2016 has been a disappointment by comparison.
"Yeah, it's disappointing to be out of both cups and be only third in the league at this point," said the 48-year-old Scotsman.
"At times in football, you have to rebuild your team. Everyone can see we miss Boris Raspudic and Joe Gamble (their foreign stars from last year).
"But it has given us the chance to use new and younger players, which will be good for us and them next year. They have learnt to be more responsible and vocal and the exposure will help them next season.
"Nobody who had watched the final tonight would say it was easy for Albirex. We created good chances and it took a great save to prevent us from equalising in the second half.
"We have eight league games left and we will try to win as many as possible and who knows where that takes us, because I think we can finish better than third."
- DAVID LEE