Albirex see off late scare to start their season in winning ways at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
Albirex Niigata (S) started their season in ideal fashion with a 3-2 victory over title rivals and last season's champions Brunei DPMM in the S.League’s season opener at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Goals from Mikiya Yamada, Hiroyishi Kamata and Kento Fujihara sealed the game for Albirex who were a step ahead against the Bruneian outfit, while DPMM got on the scoresheet courtesy of Azwan Ali and an own goal by Albirex’s Naofumi Tanaka.
Albirex’s touches seemed sharper, their movements seemed synchronised and their goals were clinical. Brunei, on the other hand, had a tough time breaking their opponent’s defence, especially in the first half.
Returning coach Naruo Naoki hailed the first-half performance of his side and promised more passing football after meeting his target of winning his first title out of four this season.
“In today’s game, the first half was very good but the second half was really tough and that made it a difficult game. We conceded two goals from mistakes. As they were just mistakes, our defence can improve on that," said Naruo.
“We will try together this season and improve on this performance and we will show more of our good football.”
Brunei’s lack of pre-season preparation may have contributed to the loss as they did not play any friendlies, in contrast to Albirex’s five friendly games (Albirex 2-0 Hougang, Albirex 2 Ceres 1, Albirex 1 Tampines 1, Albirex 0 Warriors 2 and a three set game with Young Lions that ended 1-0 to Albirex).
But DPMM boss and former Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean pointed to difficulty in finding friendly games and insisted that last season’s champions will bounce back from an early lapse.
“Sometimes it is difficult to travel and play games,” he said. “With all the respect to the teams in Brunei, we can win them easily. This pre-season, the first team played with the reserve team. We will come back stronger as the season goes on.”
The Scot added: “We were poor in the first half but had a better second half. Azwan Ali missed two chances by hitting the post. As the season goes on, these missed chances will count. ”
DPMM did look sharp and scored two goals after Albirex’s third. Winger Azwan would have scored a hat-trick through a free kick but agonisingly hit the woodwork in the 72nd minute. Frustration only grew bigger for Azwan again, whose shot was just wide off the post in the 86th minute.
Then came the late drama in the dying minutes of the game when Albirex keeper Yosuke Nozawa’s clearance rebounded off defender Naofumi Tanaka to end the game 3-2 as the 2,581 spectators were treated to a high scoring game.
With that win, last season's Singapore Cup and League Cup winners Albirex are now top of the table with three points and face Garena Young Lions next Saturday while Brunei DPMM face Geylang International.
Photo: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo