Albirex want to create more history
White Swans aim to be the first to win the League Cup four times
Albirex Niigata will be aiming to create another slice of local football history by being the first team to win The New Paper League Cup four times, but they will have to do it the hard way after being drawn into the "Group of Death".
Winners in 2011, 2015 and 2016, the White Swans are in Group A, along with Home United, Warriors FC and Hougang United.
Albirex general manager Koh Mui Tee said: "The League Cup was the first trophy we won in Singapore.
"It helped us to grow from strength to strength and we definitely want to do well again this season. It's a tough group, but we must have confidence that we can defend our title."
The other three-time champions Brunei DPMM (2009, 2012 and 2014) are in Group B along with Tampines Rovers, Geylang International and Balestier Khalsa.
But it is Group A that catches the eye as it comprises some of the more in-form S.League teams.
S.League leaders Albirex are on a stunning run of 10 wins and one draw after 11 matches this season, while third-placed Home United have made it to the Asean zonal Finals in the AFC Cup and are the only team to have taken points off the Japanese side in a 2-2 draw in April.
Warriors FC are nine-time S.League champions who boast wily veterans in their ranks and are fourth in the league.
Even sixth-placed Hougang United will look forward to another good cup run after seeing off AFC Cup Asean zonal finalists Ceres Negros in the RHB Singapore Cup on Tuesday.
Said Hougang playmaker Fumiya Kogure: "It looks like we are in the more difficult group, but the win over Ceres gives us confidence to believe that if we work together, we can beat the good teams and make it out of the group."
Back from a hamstring injury, Warriors skipper Shaiful Esah said: "We are already out of the Singapore Cup, so the League Cup is definitely our target as it gives us the most realistic chance of silverware this season."
HONOURED TITLE SPONSOR
In Group B, Balestier, seventh in the nine-team S.League, are also expected to strengthen their cup-specialists reputation. The Tigers also won their first trophy via the League Cup in 2013 and were runners-up in 2015.
- Albirex Niigata
- Home United
- Warriors FC
- Hougang United
- Tampines Rovers
- Brunei DPMM
- Geylang International
- Balestier Khalsa
* Group stage — July 7-14, semi-finals — July 18, final — July 21. Fixture details to be released at a later date.
Skipper and goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam said: "On paper, it looks like we have avoided the stronger teams, but there's no easy game. We want to do well and take it game by game."
TNP editor Eugene Wee said: "As an ardent supporter of the local game, The New Paper is honoured to be the title sponsor of the League Cup for a third consecutive year.
"Three-time champions Albirex Niigata are the team to beat, but I'm sure the other teams will raise their game in their bid to get their hands on the prestigious trophy.
"We are confident the fans will be treated to another football spectacle in this year's tournament."