Albirex Niigata (S) vs Balestier Khalsa: White Swans out to seal semi-final berth

League Cup | Jurong East Stadium | Mon 18 Jun | 7.30pm

Billed as

Albirex Niigata (S) Form

  • Home United 0-2 Albirex (League Cup)
  • Geylang International 2-2 Albirex (SG Cup QF Leg 2)
  • Albirex 2-0 Geylang International (SG Cup QF Leg 1)
  • Tampines 1-0 Albirex (S.League)
  • Albirex 5-2 Home United (S.League)

Balestier Khalsa Form

  • Balestier 2-2 Geylang (League Cup)
  • Home 2-2 Balestier (SG Cup QF Leg 2)
  • Balestier 2-1 Home (SG Cup QF Leg 1)
  • Balestier 1-4 Brunei DPMM (S.League)
  • Balestier 2-3 Tampines Rovers (S.League)

A battle between possession football (Albirex) and effective football (Balestier).

The lowdown

It’s becoming a sight all too familiar for local football fans. Albirex Niigata (S) plays, Albirex Niigata (S) wins and go on to do a victory jig in front of their loyal supporters.

The White Swans have won 15 out of 19 matches in all competitions this season and well on course to achieve an unprecedented treble.

In their Group B opener against Home United last Thursday, the holders showed their ruthlessness by fielding a full-strength side against their depleted opponents and ended up winning 2-0 comfortably.

Heading back to fortress Jurong East where they have won seven out of seven in 2016 for this second group game, the Japanese outfit must be feeling absolutely confident of attaining yet another win.

Two wins out of two will be enough for them to secure early progression into the last four and that will allow coach Naoki Naruo to blood in the reserves for their final group game against Geylang International.

Of course, it will not come against Balestier Khalsa, who have looked revitalised since the arrival of mid-season signing Niko Tokic.

While the league table makes for grim reading – languishing second-from-bottom, the Tigers have made it into the last four of the Singapore Cup and may well do the same for this League Cup.

Having let slip a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Geylang few nights back, they will have to cut out similar defensive lapses against a technically proficient Albirex side.

Marko Kraljevic’s side will have something to prove in this game, having suffered a heavy 6-0 loss in their last visit to Jurong East in early May.

As long as they can cut out their mistakes, Balestier stand a fighting chance

Team News

Albirex are ready to go, with no major injuries or suspensions reported ahead of this game.

As for Balestier, first-choice goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam is away in Japan with the Singapore national team while backup Daniel Ong has yet to recover from injury - so do expect 21-year-old Naqiuddin Nodin to deputise in goal again.

Last season’s top scorer Miroslav Kristic will have to serve out the second of his two-match suspension, so the goalscoring responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of his compatriot Tokic.

Key Battle: Kento Nagasaki vs Fazli Ayob

This game may well be decided in the middle of the park by two excellent playmakers.

Albirex’s Kento Nagasaki are great on set pieces and have an excellent range of passing – recording four goals and seven assists in all competitions.

Balestier’s Fazli Ayob is no slouch either, as evident in his two precise set-piece deliveries that led to the two goals against Geylang.

The 26-year-old’s total tally for this season reads two goals, six assists.

Fazli (right) can be trusted to keep his midfield ticking over

The Coaches

Last Five Meetings

  • Albirex 6-0 Balestier (S.League, May ’16)
  • Balestier 1-1 Albirex (S.League, Feb ’16)
  • Balestier 1-0 Albirex (S.League, Oct ’15)
  • Balestier 1-4 Albirex (SG Cup QF Leg 2, Aug ’15)
  • Albirex 1-0 Balestier (SG Cup QF Leg 1, Aug ’15)

Albirex tactician Naoki Naruo is a shrewd operator, whose 3-4-1-2 formation has worked out delightfully for the White Swans so far – with Tatsuro Inui flourishing in a roving role behind Hiroyoshi Kamata and Atsushi Kawata.

Meanwhile Balestier counterpart Marko Kraljevic may well opt for the 4-5-1 formation – which he deployed against Geylang – to combat the attacking threat of their classy opponents.

Facts and Figures

  • Albirex has the upper hand based on head-to-head records. In 42 official match-ups, they won 20 while Balestier triumphed 11 times. The other 11 matches ended in draws.
  • Both sides had met in the League Cup final last season, with Albirex triumphing 2-1 after scoring two late goals to cancel out Kristic’s early strike.
  • Balestier’s Tokic has five goals and four assists since arriving in mid-season.

FourFourTwo prediction

Balestier will battle hard, but their efforts may be in vain against an all-round Albirex side. The White Swans to prevail 2-0.

Photos: S.League