Albirex target treble after reaching Singapore Cup semis
S.League leaders and League Cup champions beat Balestier to reach S'pore Cup semi-finals
BALESTIER KHALSA 1
(Robert Pericic 90)
ALBIREX NIIGATA 4
(Atsushi Kawata 19, Rion Taki 21, Shun Inaba 38, Rui Kumada 83)
| Albirex win 5-1 on aggregate
This season is shaping up to be quite a special one for Albirex Niigata.
After moving into the RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals with a dominant 5-1 aggregate win over 2014 champions Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium last night, the Japanese side are dreaming of an unprecedented treble.
They claimed the TNP League Cup last month.
They also sit atop of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, with 11 games to go.
And coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama thinks his side can pull it off.
"Of course, our players may get tired if they have only two days' rest between games," said the former J-League midfielder, pointing to the fact Thursday's S.League clash with Home United will be his team's third game in a week.
"But we are enjoying being in three competitions and our job is to perform well in every match.
"As long as we are in a competition, we will do our best to win it."
Carrying a 1-0 lead from last Thursday's first leg, Albirex practically sealed the game in the first 20 minutes.
Atsushi Kawata powered home a free-kick from 20 metres to give his side the lead on 19 minutes, then turned provider two minutes later when he squared the ball for Rion Taki to make it 2-0.
Balestier could have pulled one back in the 27th minute, but Tarik Cmajcanin inexplicably shot into the side-netting after rounding goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa and facing a gaping goal.
Shun Inaba added a third for Albirex in the 38th minute by putting the finishing touches on a lightning-quick counter-attack.
Substitute Rui Kumada added gloss to the scoreline seven minutes from time, pouncing on an error by Hanafi Salleh and finishing emphatically.
There was still time for Ridwan Jamil to pick up a red card for elbowing Kumada in the 88th minute, before Robert Pericic scored a consolation goal for the Tigers.
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic said Albirex were good enough to go all the way.
"They are a good team," said the reigning S.League Coach of the Year.
"They defend very well and have two or three outstanding guys up front. So why not?"
Kraljevic was not too downcast by the defeat.
"I think we played well... This is a fake score," he said with a wink, taking a leaf out of Jose Mourinho's book.
"Our boys played with heart... But the final product wasn't there."
Last night's result means three of the four remaining teams in this year's Singapore Cup - Albirex, Brunei DPMM and Philippine side Global FC - are foreign.
The sole Singaporean side remaining are six-time winners Home.
BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Yusiskandar Yusop, Hanafi Salleh, Igor Cerina, Nurullah Hussein, Poh Yi feng, Jonathan Xu (Ridwan Jamil 56), Emir Lotinac, Tarik Cmajcanin (Hazzuwan Halim 76th), Ignatius Ang (Robert Pericic 56), Miroslav Kristic
ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa (Kenjiro Ogino 86), Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Shun Inaba, Hikaru Mizuno, Kento Nagasaki, Atsushi Kawata (Yusuke Mukai 72), Rion Taki, fumiya Kogure (Rui Kumada 60)
- Man of the Match: Atsushi Kawata