Lion City Sailors on a mission: To beat SPL leaders Albirex
Beating holders Albirex in tonight's top-of-the-table clash part of their plan to dethrone the Japanese side
The Lion City Sailors will set sail on a mission to depose defending Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata at the Jalan Besar Stadium today, with 2020 Player of the Year Gabriel Quak calling on his Sailors teammates to adopt a positive mindset ahead of the clash.
He feels the Japanese team have been put on a pedestal and enjoy a psychological advantage as they go into every game chasing a win, unlike rivals who go into matches against them "not wanting to lose instead of wanting to win".
Quak, 30, said: "Many teams can match them and we know their tactics, strengths and weaknesses for some time already. But, if teams go in thinking, 'Let's try not to concede first', then they are already beaten.
"We cannot approach the game like that... We need to stamp our authority and let them worry about us instead.
"We know exactly what we have to do - win the last four games and we will be champions. So we have to take the initiative and, even if we concede first, we know we have the ability to bounce back and win."
With 38 points from 17 games, the Sailors are five points behind Albirex but have a game in hand. If they win their remaining games, they will have 50 points, while the White Swans can reach a maximum of only 49 points.
However, if Albirex win or draw against the Sailors tonight, they will be in pole position to win their fifth championship in six years.
History is not on the Sailors' side, with Albirex unbeaten in their 11 previous encounters.
While they have not lost in the six games since South Korean coach Kim Do-hoon took over from Aurelio Vidmar, there has been a clear change to a more compact and less expansive playing style which has taken some time for players to get used to, as they have had to come from behind four times to salvage a result.
Striker Stipe Plazibat, who has 14 goals, is a doubt after being on the end of an ankle-crunching tackle in the 3-1 win over Young Lions on Sunday.
But Quak, who has doubled his goal output to 10 this season, relishes the pressure.
He hopes the presence of the players with experience of winning titles - goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, midfielder Hariss Harun and LionsXII alumnus Faris Ramli - can lead the team to glory.
There may not be a better opportunity for a local team to overthrow Albirex, who have had a host of injuries in their attack.
Kiyoshiro Tsuboi scored 11 goals in nine games before tearing his knee ligaments in May and just returned as a substitute in the 5-0 win over Geylang International last Saturday.
Fumiya Suzuki (concussion), Fairoz Hassan (ankle), Nicky Melvin Singh (hamstring) and Fikri Junaidi (motorbike accident) have all been sidelined at some stage.
Albirex coach Keiji Shigetomi said: "This game is a direct confrontation between first and second (SPL teams).
"For young players, being able to play this big game is a huge experience in their life. It's rare, so I want them to play without wasting a second."
One White Swan who has made his time on the pitch count is 19-year-old Kuraba Kondo. His 13 games include 10 appearances off the bench, but the former Japan youth international has scored eight times.
He said: "I will strive to score against the Sailors too. But it is more important to fight along with my team and win in any way possible, because whoever wins this match will likely win the league."