Awesome Albirex complete sweep
Albirex complete clean sweep as Tampines goalkeeper Izwan rues error
ALBIREX NIIGATA 2
(Atsushi Kawata 28, Kento Nagasaki 87)
TAMPINES ROVERS 0
As his teammates trudged over to the centre of the pitch at the final whistle, Tampines Rovers goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud hung around his goal a bit longer.
The 26-year-old pulled his shirt over his face and rested against his post, wondering what it might have been.
For it was the national shot-stopper's uncharacteristic error that gave Albirex Niigata the upper hand in the RHB Singapore Cup final last night.
“If I didn’t concede that goal, we could have dominated. But, after that, they sat back and it was hard to break them down.” - Tampines’ Izwan Mahbud on conceding Albirex’s first goal by Atsushi Kawata.
In the 28th minute, Izwan allowed a backpass from Mustafic Fahrudin to run across his body.
Unfortunately for him, White Swans striker Atsushi Kawata sped in just at the right moment, and lunged at the ball ahead of the goalkeeper, jabbing it into an empty goal.
Albirex went on to win 2-0, after Kento Nagasaki scored another goal late on, as Tampines pushed forward for an equaliser.
Albirex's opener came at a moment when Tampines looked comfortable in the game. No wonder Izwan was disconsolate at the final whistle.
"I felt like I cost the team," he told The New Paper. "If I didn't concede that goal, we could have dominated.
"But, after that, they sat back and it was hard to break them down.
"What to do? It was one of those days. They turned up, and I did not.
"But I'm sure Tampines will come back stronger next year."
His coach, Akbar Nawas, also rued the error from his captain.
"That sums up our whole season," he said, with a wry smile. "You wouldn't expect something like this.
"To be in a cup final, start to string passes together and get a grip of the game and then concede a goal like that.
"After that, we had to play catch- up. And it's always not easy, what more against a team like Albirex."
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo sprung a surprise by setting his team up in a 4-3-3, rather than his usual 3-4-3 formation.
The coach later explained that the switch was a result of his concern at seeing his team thumped 5-1 by Tampines in a dead-rubber S.League match between the two teams on Wednesday.
But, while the approach helped to tighten his backline, his side offered little going forward, with top-scorer Kawata marooned in a left forward role.
The 24-year-old, however, made his mark in the 28th minute, pouncing on Izwan's moment of carelessness.
A goal up, Albirex were content to sit deep and, while Tampines probed, they could not trouble Yosuke Nozawa in the White Swans' goal.
The Stags' best chance came in the 84th minute, when Jordan Webb stole in ahead of Nozawa to get on the end of a free-kick, but headed over.
Three minutes later, Albirex sealed the game when Kento Nagasaki finished off an attacking move with a looping header over Izwan.
The victory helped the Japanese outfit complete an unprecedented quadruple - they had earlier lifted the Community Shield, TNP League Cup and S.League title.
The Albirex squad celebrating their unprecedented quadruple of (from near right) The New Paper League Cup, the S.League, the RHB Singapore Cup and the Community Shield.TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
When asked, tongue in cheek, if he was struggling to find space at home to display his winners' medals, a jubilant Naruo said: "Yes, now max (capacity)!"
The coach declined to reveal if he was staying for next season but, when asked about his future targets, said: "Of course, titles are important, but what's more important is we need to keep challenging and improving as a team."
Albirex skipper Nozawa, who confirmed he would leave at the end of the season, had kind words for Izwan.
"As a goalkeeper, I can understand his pain more than anybody," said the 36-year-old former J.League shot-stopper.
"I just hope he learns from this experience and improves."
“If I didn’t concede that goal, we could have dominated. But, after that, they sat back and it was hard to break them down.”
- Tampines’ Izwan Mahbud on conceding Albirex’s first goal by Atsushi Kawata.
Ceres finish third
Ceres la Salle came from behind to beat Balestier Khalsa 2-1 in yesterday's RHB Singapore Cup third-placing match, played before the final.
In the process, they became the first Philippine side to finish third in the tournament. The previous best finish for previous invitees from the Philippines - Global FC (2013 and 2015) and Loyola Meralco Sparks (2012) - was fourth.
Balestier took the lead through Niko Tokic after just four minutes, with the Croatian striker rifling home from the edge of the box.
Ceres, who last week finished runners-up in their domestic league and qualified for next season's AFC Cup, recovered from the early shock and turned the game in a five-minute spell in the second half.
Manny Ott pounced on a rebound in the 64th minute to equalise, before Philippine international Stephan Schrock completed the turnaround in the 69th minute with a daisy cutter from over 25 metres.
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ