Albirex Niigata (S) vs Home United: Can the Protectors prevent a foreign clean sweep?
Home United’s chance to salvage some pride for Singapore clubs.
ALBIREX NIIGATA (S) FORM
- Albirex 2-1 Global (SG Cup)
- Albirex 1-0 Hougang United (S.League)
- Albirex 0-1 Tampines Rovers (S.League)
- Home 1-2 Albirex (S.League)
- Albirex 0-1 Courts Young Lions (S.League)
HOME UNITED FORM
- Home Utd 2-0 Brunei DPMM (SG Cup)
- Home Utd 2-1 Courts Young Lions (S.League)
- Home Utd 2-3 Tampines (S.League)
- Home Utd 1-2 Albirex (S.League)
- Harimau Muda 1-0 Home Utd (S.League)
So there we have it – the final game in the Singapore football calendar for year 2015. As far as the local clubs are concerned, it has been a miserable year with Albirex Niigata (S) lifting the TNP League Cup in June and Brunei DPMM crowned S.League champions just a week ago.
An Albirex triumph in this Cup final will mean a clean sweep of trophies for foreign clubs, a scenario which most S.League fans probably would not love to see. The last time this happened was back in 2010, where the now-defunct Etoile FC picked up both the League Cup and the league title, while Thailand’s Bangkok Glass clinched the Singapore Cup.
The White Swans are enjoying one of their best seasons since their inception in 2004, after a shrewd recruitment exercise which saw them bringing in former J.League stars Yosuke Nozawa and Fumiya Kogure, as well as exciting talents plucked fresh from university in the form of Rion Taki and Atsushi Kawata.
Solid at the back and tidy in possession, Albirex managed to clinch the League Cup with a 2-1 comeback win against Balestier Khalsa before finishing third in the league – seven points behind eventual winners DPMM.
Interestingly enough, the all-Japanese outfit have scored the fewest number of goals (27, one less than bottom-placed Hougang United) but conceded the least (letting in just 17 goals in 27 matches) in the league.
Things have gone rather smoothly for them in the Cup so far, having dispatched Cambodia’s Svay Rieng, Balestier Khalsa and Philippines’ Global FC without much fuss – ensuring their progression into this showpiece final for only the second time in their history.
It is a case of déjà vu as they will face off with Home United again, their opponents in that 2011 final against whom they battled valiantly but lost 1-0 due to an 118th-minute goal by Frederic Mendy.
Unlike Albirex, the Protectors have an illustrious history in this competition – reaching the final a total of nine times (including this year) in the tournament’s 18-year history, winning it a record six times (2000, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2013).
There has been a fresh breath of air at the Yishun-based club this season, with the appointment of the unheralded Philippe Aw as head coach after the departure of Lee Lim-saeng. With a brand-new focus on youth and a change in their football philosophy, the Protectors class of 2015 took some time to gel together.
Things gradually improved together midway through with Azhar Sairudin notching a few goals from midfield, while young Frenchman Ambroise Begue linked up well with Danish marksman Ken Ilso upfront as they put together a 10-match unbeaten run in the league.
The young squad now has a chance to lift some silverware after impressively overturning the semi-final tie against DPMM on Tuesday.
Trailing 3-2 from the first leg, the Protectors rallied with goals in each half from Azhar and super-sub Imran Sahib putting them through and leaving them just one step away from cup glory.
With no suspensions coming into this game, both sides are expected to field their strongest starting 11.
For Albirex, captain and goalkeeper Nozawa will be in goal with the rock-solid centre-back pairing of Kento Fujihara and Takahiro Saito lining up in front of him, while the two Yamadas, Itsuki and Mikiya, should continue in their full-back positions.
Shun Inaba and Hikaru Mizuno will sweep things up in the middle of the park, leaving playmaker Kogure to pull the strings and support the three-pronged attack of Kawata, Rui Kumada and Yusuke Mukai.
As for United, goalkeeper Shahril Jantan is set for his last competitive appearance in a 16-year long professional career with Abdil Qaiyyim and captain Noh Rahman forming his last line of defence.
Juma’at Jantan and Sirina Camara should take up the full-back positions, while Kamel Ramdani and Yasir Hanapi keep things tidy in central midfield.
Stanely Ng, Azhar and Fazli Ayob will form a handy attacking trident behind Ilso, as they look to take down the sturdy Albirex defence.
Key Battle: Yosuke Nozawa vs Ken Ilso
Home United’s chances of lifting the Cup will largely depend on Ilso, who plays an equally important role in both creating and scoring goals – with a total of 13 goals and 10 assists in all competitions this term.
It will not be easy for the former German Bundesliga forward as he will come up against the imposing figure of Albirex goalkeeper Nozawa.
The 36-year-old, who previously played for parent club Albirex and Shonan Bellmare in the Japanese top flight, has been a calming influence on the young White Swans outfit and only let in 20 goals in 36 appearances.
The Coaches - Battle of the young and promising gaffers
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Home Utd 1-2 Albirex (S.League, Nov ‘15)
- Albirex 0-0 Home Utd (S.League, Aug ‘15)
- Albirex 2-0 Home Utd (League Cup, Jun ‘15)
- Home Utd 0-0 Albirex (S.League, Apr ‘15)
- Albirex 2-1 Home Utd (Friendly, Feb ‘15)
On opposite benches are two 39-year-olds, who have done a sterling job with their respective sides, despite still being in the infancy of their coaching careers.
Previously coach of the Albirex Niigata ladies’ team from 2008 to 2012, Albirex’s Tatsuyuki Okuyama has already won the League Cup in his second season in charge of a professional outfit.
Meanwhile in his first season in the top-flight, Home United counterpart Philippe Aw has gotten the side playing an attractive brand of swashbuckling attacking football – something which bodes well for the upcoming season.
Facts and Figures
- Home are the most successful club in the history of the Singapore Cup, having picked up the trophy six times
- If Home wins, it will be their third Singapore Cup title in five years.
- This is the second time Albirex have reached the Singapore Cup final in their history
- Home have yet to beat Albirex on four occasions this season (two 0-0 draws and a 1-2 home loss in the league, a 2-0 away loss in the League Cup)
- This is Noh Rahman’s and Shahril Jantan’s fourth successive Singapore Cup final (they were part of SAFFC’s winning team in 2012 before joining Home the following year)
- Shahril Jantan is currently the most successful player in Singapore Cup history, having won it four times (2007, 2008 and 2012 with SAFFC, 2013 with Home)
It looks like it’s too close to call between both sides, but I fancy Home just nicking it 2-1 to complete a dream first year for Aw.
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