Albirex Niigata (S) vs Brunei DPMM: Which foreign side will hit the ground running?
The best defence vs the best attack (based on last’s season records).
Here we go. After all the excitement surrounding the return of the LionsXII players and the arrival of a certain Jermaine Pennant, the 21st season of the S.League will finally kick off this Saturday night with the customary curtain-raiser game – the Community Shield, which doubles up as a league game.
Albirex Niigata (S) Form
- Hougang United 0-2 Albirex (Friendly)
- Albirex 2-1 Ceres La Salle (Friendly)
- Tampines Rovers 1-1 Albirex (Friendly)
- Albirex 0-2 Warriors FC (Friendly)
- Albirex 1-0 Garena Young Lions (Friendly)
Brunei DPMM Form
- DPMM 3-1 Global FC (S.League)
- Home United 2-0 DPMM (S.League)
- DPMM 4-0 Balestier Khalsa (S.League)
- Warriors FC 1-3 DPMM (S.League)
- Geylang Int’l 2-1 DPMM (S.League)
There’s something different this year for this game, with both participating sides being foreign invitees. That tells a lot about how year 2015 went for the local clubs, with all seven sides ending the season empty handed.
While the league title continued to elude them, Albirex Niigata (S) had their best year yet by being crowned double Cup winners – both the League Cup and Singapore Cup.
Chief to their success was a sturdy back five that consisted of former J.League keeper Yosuke Nozawa, centre-backs Kento Fujihara and Takahiro Saito and flying fullbacks Mikiya Yamada and Itsuki Yamada – ensuring they leaked just 17 goals in 27 league matches last year.
While Saito and I. Yamada left for greener pastures, the White Swans have held on to Nozawa, Fujihara and M. Yamada – providing them a good platform to build on last year’s success.
Further up the field, they lost striker Rion Taki and last season’s Player of the Year Fumiya Kogure, who has joined Hougang United.
However, they have recruited well by luring back left-footed playmaker Tatsuro Inui, who played for the club back in 2010 and 2011, and securing 1.9m forward Kazuki Mine on loan from J-League 2 side Kyoto Sanga.
The Jurong East-based club also managed to hold on to the attacking talents of Atsushi Kawata and Kento Nagasaki – certainly a big boost considering the duo has been prolific in pre-season.
On the other hand, Brunei DPMM finally won their first S.League title in 2015.
A huge part of the triumph was down to the lethal strike partnership between former Sporting Lisbon trainee Paulo Sergio and the towering Brazilian hitman Rafael Ramazotti. Together, the duo was responsible for 34 out of their 48 league goals.
Last Five Meetings
- Albirex 0-0 DPMM (S.League, Sep 15’)
- Albirex 2-1 DPMM (S.League, May 15’)
- DPMM 1-0 Albirex (S.League, Mar 15’)
- Albirex 0-1 DPMM (S.League, Oct 14’)
- DPMM 2-1 Albirex (SG Cup, Jul 14’)
Thus the Wasps’ faithful should be happy to hear they are back for a second season as they look to become only the third side (after Warriors FC and Tampines Rovers) to retain the S.League crown.
Former Scottish League defender Brian McLean has also been retained, but his defensive partner Boris Raspudic and midfield hard man Joe Gamble had to be ‘sacrificed’ due to the new three-foreigner ruling. That will give Steve Kean some food for thought on which locals to step in for this season.
Apart from that, the bulk of the squad remains the same – with the evergreen Wardun Yusoff still between the sticks, Sairol Sahari continuing to patrol the left side of defence, Maududi Hilmi looking to continue his energetic displays down the right flank and the precocious Azwan Ali back to terrorise defences.
Peculiarly they are the only S.League side that did not play any pre-season friendlies, thus it will be interesting to see how they fare in their first 90 minutes since last November.
While Albirex are fully fit and raring to go for this big clash, DPMM are crippled by the absence of four players.
Captain Rosmin Kamis is ruled out due to a suspension carried over from last season, while defender Amalul Ariffin Shah and midfielders Aminuddin Zakwan and Hendra Azam have yet to pass the league’s mandatory 2.4km fitness test in time to play.
Key Battle: Yosuke Nozawa vs Rafael Ramazotti
This is a no-brainer – last season’s best goalkeeper vs last season’s Golden Boot winner.
Nozawa, 36, has been a calming influence at the back with the ability to command his area and come off his line to foil opposition attackers, while 1.93m Ramazotti is a poacher who can seemingly finish from all angles inside the box.
Something has to give on Saturday night.
Naoki Naruo is back in the Albirex dugout after five years back in Japan where he was coaching J3 side Grulla Morioka. The 41-year-old will have unfinished business here, having guided the White Swans to only a seventh-place finish back in 2009.
Meanwhile DPMM counterpart Steve Kean will be looking to continue the progress in the Sultanate since he took over in late 2013. It will be interesting to see how the 48-year-old former Blackburn man fares in his third year in charge.
Facts and Figures
- This is the ninth time that the Charity Shield has been held. Four of the last eight Shield winners went on to lift the S.League trophy – Warriors in 2008 and Tampines in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
- DPMM have the edge based on head-to-head records, with eight wins in 13 encounters. Albirex triumphed four times, while the other game ended in a draw.
Albirex to nick it 2-1. The absence of four players will be telling for DPMM, so we expect the White Swans to triumph narrowly.