White Swans stay on track for historic treble
They qualify for final by beating Balestier
SEMI-FINAL, SECOND LEG
BALESTIER KHALSA 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Rui Kumada 82)
- Albirex win 2-0 on aggregate
Albirex Niigata took one big step towards a historic Treble last night after beating Balestier Khalsa in the second leg of their RHB Singapore Cup semi-finals.
A late winner from substitute Rui Kumada was enough to see off the Tigers 1-0 (2-0 on aggregate) at Toa Payoh Stadium and book a spot in the final against Tampines on Oct 29.
It was far from a vintage display from the Japanese outfit though.
The visitors were nowhere near the level they are capable of but, on a positive note, they showed that they know how to grind out a result against a Balestier outfit that showed plenty of endeavour, but lacked a cutting edge up front.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo insisted that his side will not be distracted by the treble talk and will concentrate only on their next immediate task.
"The only thing we want to worry about is focusing on each game at a time," said Naruo.
"As tonight's game proved, every match is now going to be very difficult and we can't afford to look too far ahead.
"We knew what to expect as it's always tough against Balestier, so to get both the win and a clean sheet are very satisfying."
The White Swans already have The New Paper League Cup in the bag and are four points clear of second-placed Tampines, who have played a game more, in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
They play the first of their last eight S.League matches next Thursday, against Geylang International.
With a one-goal advantage from the first leg, there was no need for Albirex to start last night's match with an overly adventurous approach and they certainly looked content to just control proceedings.
Chances were few and far between in the opening 45 minutes, but the visitors did have a real scare in the 23rd minute when goalkeeper Eita Kasagawa came off his line and sent a clearance straight into opposition attacker Fadhil Noh.
But, in front of an unguarded goal, Fadhil couldn't direct the ball towards the target.
Tatsuro Inui came close to opening the scoring for Albirex with a curling free-kick that forced Zaiful Nizam into a smart save, before Balestier threatened through Niko Tokic, who had a couple of half-chances but failed to take them.
As the game entered its closing stages, it did appear as though the White Swans would do enough to get the job done with a goalless draw.
But, with eight minutes remaining, Naofumi Tanaka made his way down the left flank before floating a inch-perfect cross to the back post, allowing Kumada to send a thumping header past Zaiful and seal their progress.
"I'm happy with the performance, if not the result," said Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic.
"We did better than in the first leg and stopped Albirex from playing their game, but we just lack some creativity in attack.
"Obviously, there's now little for us to fight for in our last five games, but we'll still have to do our jobs by working hard and trying to pick up as many points as we can."
- TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Naofumi Tanaka (Albirex Niigata)
- BALESTIER KHALSA: Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Nurullah Hussein, Ahmad Syahir, Fadhil Noh (Jamil Ali 68), Shah Hirul (Danial Farhan Tan 78), Ho Wai Loon, Sadin Smajovic (Hazzuwan Halim 61), Miroslav Kristic, Niko Tokic.
- ALBIREX NIIGATA: Eita Kasagawa, Tomoki Menda, Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Kazuki Mine, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki, Tatsuro Inui (Rui Kumada 61), Daichi Ishiyama (Hiroyoshi Kamata 76), Atsushi Kawata.