S.League title all but Albirex's
Japanese side could effectively seal championship with win on Thursday
|HOME UNITED||TAMPINES ROVERS|
|(Ryotaru Megumi 13, 55)|
A Japanese player effectively handed this year's Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League title to his compatriots at Albirex Niigata last night.
Tampines Rovers winger Ryotaru Megumi scored a fine brace to help his side beat Home United 2-0 at the Bishan Stadium.
The result means league leaders Albirex will all but seal a second consecutive title if they beat Balestier Khalsa at the Toa Payoh Stadium on Thursday night.
A win over Balestier would put them on 56 points, with only three games left.
Second-placed Tampines will also reach 56 points if they win all their remaining games, but they have a vastly inferior goal difference of plus-20, compared to Albirex's plus-42.
Home can collect a maximum of only 55 points.
The significance of Megumi's goals were reflected by a group of Albirex players, including goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa and captain Shuto Inaba, cheering wildly in the stands each time the ball bulged the net.
Tampines coach Juergen Raab, who had given up hope of the S.League title two months ago after his side were thumped 4-0 by Albirex, insisted his position had not changed.
"It (pipping Albierx) would have been possible if Albirex drew with Hougang (in their last game)," said the German, whose side have won five of their last six matches.
"But they won that close match and I think their team are too strong and too focused. If they win (on Thursday), they deserve to be champions.
"Like I said after our defeat by them, we are finished with the championship.
"We cannot do anything but win all our remaining matches, that's why our focus is on second place."
Home United coach Aidil Sharin, who had previously vowed not to give up hope for the title, also hinted the championship was beyond his side.
Said the 40-year-old: "Since we can't finish top, we want to finish second now. That's the aim."
Tampines were dealt an early blow last night when chief striker Fazrul Nawaz hobbled off after just four minutes after picking up a hamstring injury while jumping for a header.
But the Stags were not affected by his loss. In the 13th minute, Megumi beat two Home defenders before sending a left-footed shot past goalkeeper Hassan Sunny to open the scoring.
Home had a great chance to equalise in the 37th minute when Faris Ramli sent Irfan Fandi through on goal, but the 20-year-old, who has mostly played as a defender in the past two years, dragged his shot well wide.
The miss proved costly, as 10 minutes into the second half, Megumi added a second for Tampines with an almost identical goal to his first - cutting inside from the right flank to fire past Hassan.
Home's players looked lacklustre and bereft of ideas, and Aidil substituted two of his best attacking players this season, Faris Ramli and Stipe Plazibat, who lacked sparkle last night, even as his side were chasing a goal.
The coach said his team had an "off day", and pointed to a heavy schedule - they have played more games than other S.League sides this year because of AFC Cup exertions - as a reason for the team's lack of sharpness.
"We're the only team playing so many games, and tonight there was no quality in our play," said Aidil.
"I take responsibility for the result, but in terms of performance, many of my players did not look sharp.
"It's not easy to maintain a high level of performance with just two or three days' rest between games."