Albirex clinch historic S.League title with emphatic win

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Albirex Niigata S were crowned S.League champions with two games remaining after an emphatic 3-0 win over Hougang United at Jalan Besar Stadium.

Since they joined the S.League in 2004, Albirex’s best-ever league finish was third place. They will now add the championship to the trophy cabinet along with the League Cup they earned earlier this season.

The Japanese side's win meant that they have accumulated 50 points —10 more than Tampines with three games remaining for the latter, making it mathematically impossible for the Stags to catch up with them. 

The Japanese side's win meant that they have accumulated 50 points —10 more than Tampines with three games remaining for the latter, making it mathematically impossible for the Stags to catch up with them.

The White Swans are also in the Singapore Cup final, where a victory over Tampines Rovers will allow them to be the first club to win an unprecedented domestic Treble.

Knowing that three points were all they needed to seal the title, Albirex poured forward right from the start and they scored the opener within four minutes.

A ball over the top from Kento Fujihara found Atsushi Kawata and he raced through on goal before finishing past Hougang goalkeeper Khairulhin Khalid for the opener.

Three minutes later, Masaya Jitozono doubled the White Swans’ advantage with a deflected free-kick that flew past a rooted Khairulhin.

The Hougang defence was in shambles and they could have gone further behind even before the 10th-minute mark, only for Kawata to get his shot off target after beating the offside trap.

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Kawata was threatening all game and unlucky not to get his hat-trick

The Cheetahs nearly found a lifeline in the 16th minute, but Farioz Hasan disappointingly lashed wide from close range after M.Anumanthan picked him out.

The White Swans were unlucky not to find a third goal thereafter, with Daichi Ishiyama’s rasping drive flashing past the far post, while Khairulhin produced a stupendous save to deny Naofumi Tanaka at point-blank range.

That goal duly arrived just after the half-hour mark, as Kawata won the ball in the danger area and found Rui Kumada, who calmly slotted home.

Hougang’s defeat meant that failed to put distance between themselves and Home United as well as Geylang International in the race to finish in an AFC Cup berth.

Albirex would continue to carve out several opportunities before the break came, only for Kawata to see his shots go agonisingly wide.

The game was halted temporarily after the break, as the lightning warning system came on and only resumed after 40 minutes.

Upon restart, Albirex took their foot off the pedal and were contented to soak up the pressure, as Hougang sought for a way back into the match.

However, it was the Japanese side who came close to scoring again, as Khairulhin had to parry away Ishayama’s stinging effort in the 75th minute.

Hougang’s defeat meant that failed to put distance between themselves and Home United as well as Geylang International in the race to finish in an AFC Cup berth.

Geylang beat Warriors 2-1 on the same night and are now on 31 points, level with Home and just one behind Hougang.

Home will play Balestier on Saturday evening and they can overtake the Cheetahs in fourth with three points.

Photos: S.League