Inaba's wonder strike sinks Balestier
Balestier stunned by Inaba's long-range volley
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Shuto Inaba 44)
BALESTIER KHALSA 0
Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic set up his side to nullify S.League leaders Albirex Niigata in their RHB Singapore Cup semi-final, first-leg match last night, and his charges gave as good as they got.
But a stunning goal undid all the Tigers' good work at the Jurong East Stadium.
Albirex midfielder Shuto Inaba let rip a superb volley from well over 20 metres which dipped straight into the top corner, and handed his side the advantage heading into Tuesday's second leg at the Toa Payoh Stadium.
There was little Kraljevic could do but salute the strike, which must surely go down as a contender for Goal of the Season.
"I saw the ball go in all the way," he said. "Nobody can stop goals like this. It was excellent."
However, the Croat was not happy with his own team's play leading up to Inaba's wonder goal.
After Ho Wai Loon had gone down in the Albirex half, the Japanese side did not play the ball out, and Balestier winger Syafiq Zainal illegally brought down Hiroyoshi Kamata to concede a free-kick.
The ball was swung into the box and cleared with a punch by Tigers goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, but Inaba was quickest to the clearance and unleashed the unstoppable volley.
Said Kraljevic: "This is down to mental skill. I know your teammate is down, there is no foul given, and you want to stop the game.
"But it was an unnecessary foul, with just one minute left in the first half."
Other than that, Balestier played a tactically sound game.
Kraljevic deployed Syafiq as an auxiliary fullback to track Albirex left wingback Naofumi Tanaka, whose forays forward have hurt many S.League teams this season.
Balestier centre backs Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Nurullah Hussein did enough to keep White Swans striker Rui Kumada quiet, and the frontman was substituted just 10 minutes into the second half.
And Shah Hirul and Ho did well enough in midfield to deny Albirex's creative players time and space to thread passes forward.
Even going forward, Balestier had it figured out.
Niko Tokic and Miroslav Kristic both had one-on-one chances but the former hooked his shot poorly wide, while the latter took too long to pull the trigger and eventually saw his shot blocked.
When asked what his approach for the second leg would be, Kraljevic said: "There's nothing to calculate, we need to win.
"Maybe playing on the Toa Payoh pitch will give us an advantage. There're still 90 minutes (in the tie)."
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo said: "It was a very difficult game for us.
"Inaba's goal was very important, especially when we play a team that is very good at defending, like Balestier.
"We made some mistakes tonight, so we want to do better and win the second leg, and make the final."
ALBIREX: Eita Kasagawa, Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Kazuki Mine, Tomoki Menda, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki, Naofumi Tanaka, Tatsuro Inui (Daichi Ishiyama 84), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Mikiya Yamada 78), Rui Kumada (Masaya Jitozono 55).
BALESTIER: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Ahmad Syahir, Shah Hirul, Ho Wai Loon (Danial Farhan Tan 70), Syafiq Zainal, Miroslav Kristic, Fadhil Noh (Sadin Smajovic 72), Niko Tokic (Hazzuwan Halim 46).
TNP Man of the Match: Shuto Inaba.