Favourites Tampines slog for opening 1-0 win
ALBIREX NIIGATA 0
TAMPINES ROVERS 1
(Fabrice Noel 60)
It wasn't pretty, but it was three points.
Tampines Rovers, title favourites for this season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, got their season off to a winning start after a 1-0 victory over Albirex Niigata in front of an estimated crowd of over 2,000 at the Jurong East Stadium last night.
But they were made to fight for the win and, based on the match, Albirex will be a tough nut to crack as the Japanese side also look to make a title challenge.
Haitian forward Fabrice Noel was the match-winner for the Stags, taking advantage of a defensive mix-up between Albirex left back Itsuki Yamada and experienced former J-League goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, to stab the ball home in the 60th minute.
You could see what the win meant to the Tampines players, staff and chairman Teo Hock Seng, who exchanged high-fives and hugs at the final whistle.
ONLY RESULT MATTERS
New Stags coach V Sundramoorthy had no complaints over the manner of victory.
"If you win, people will say your game-plan was good," he said, with a chuckle.
"If you lose, it's back to the drawing board. In the end, the result is what matters."
Fabian Kwok stood tall for the visitors, timing his challenges impeccably, never shirking a tackle and consistently providing support for teammates in an all-action midfield display.
Albirex, who in pre-season announced their own title ambitions, were certainly up for it against the S.League giants, who were champions from 2011 to 2013.
One incident midway through the second-half encapsulated their new-found aggression which could prove a handy complement to their trademark brand of slick passing football.
As Tampines defender Eddy Viator lay on the turf clutching his stomach after a 50-50 challenge, the Albirex players refused to play the ball out for him to get treatment, instead pouring forward in search of the equaliser.
The White Swans did not manage to capitalise from the situation and both sets of players later squared up to one another.
Sundram was not upset over the incident and even had kind words for his opponents.
"I believe they will be up there challenging (for the title) come the end of the season," said the coach.
"No one will have an easy game against them, they will keep running until injury time and never give up.
"I'm happy with the win. Anybody who watched the game would see that the standard was high and I would say the S.League is as good as any league in South-east Asia," added the former Singapore star.
Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama rued the "lack of communication" between his players which led to the goal, but had no sympathy for his charges.
He said: "We created more chances than Tampines, but could not score. And then we made one mistake in defence and conceded.
"So, considering that, I don't think we deserved even one point from the game."
- Man of the Match: Fabian Kwok
- ALBIREX: Yosuke Nozawa, Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Atsushi Kawata, Hikaru Mizuno, Fumiya Kogure (Kento Nagasaki 80), Shun Inaba, Rion Taki, Shotaro Ihata (Rui Kumada 66)
- TAMPINES: Joey Sim, Jufri Taha, Eddy Viator, Predrag Pocuca, Shaiful Esah, Mustafic Fahrudin, Fabian Kwok, Firdaus Idros, Fabrice Noel (Noh Alam Shah 77), Ismadi Mukhtar, Mateo Roskam