Albirex down Tampines to win historic quadruple

Albirex Niigata (S) pulled off the feat of lifting every piece of domestic silverware this term after dispatching Tampines Rovers 2-0 in the 2016 Singapore Cup final at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday. 

A first-half mistake from Tampines goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud gifted Atsushi Kawata the opener, before Kento Nagasaki scored a late header to seal a 2-0 win for Albirex on a historic night in front of 4,928 spectators.

This is the happiest moment of my life. I want be a legendary coach in Singapore after a few years.

- Naoki Naruo

They are the first side to sweep all four pieces of silverware on offer in a season – the Charity Shield, S.League, League Cup and Singapore Cup.

It capped off a dream year for coach Naoki Naruo, who returned this year after an indifferent first spell in charge of the White Swans in 2009 which yielded no trophies and a seventh-place league finish.

“This is the happiest moment of my life!” he told reporters at the post-match press conference. “I knew this game was going to be very tough, but we got stronger and adapted as it went along.

Despite such a delightful season, the 42-year-old is already looking ahead to next year.

“Titles are very important, but we need to keep challenging,” he added. “We have to keep building to become one of the best clubs in Singapore. I want be a legendary coach in Singapore after a few years.” 

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas made a big call by leaving former Arsenal and Liverpool midfielder Jermaine Pennant on the bench, preferring to start Shahdan Sulaiman.

The latter, who is vying to be a late inclusion into Singapore’s Suzuki Cup squad, created the Stags’ first chance of the night on six minutes, but Hafiz Sujad could only lash over from a tight angle.

Albirex gradually got a foothold on the game and should have scored 10 minutes later, but Hiroyoshi Kamata scuffed his close-range volley horribly wide after being teed up by Rui Kumada.

Danger man Kawata, who started on the left wing, was kept quiet until the 20th minute when he tested Izwan’s palms with a 35-yard drive.

No, I would have done it (bench Pennant) over a thousand times if I could. I see him in training and how he behaves together with players, so I deem who should be in the line-up.

- Akbar Nawas

The 24-year-old then put the White Swans ahead eight minutes later, pickpocketing Izwan to poke home from two yards out after the latter dwelled a tad too long on Mustafic Fahrudin’s back pass.

Akbar was disappointed with the way his side conceded that goal, but refused to blame his goalkeeper.

“Of course you wouldn’t expect something like this to happen in a final,” he said. “Conceding a goal like that will dampen the team’s spirits and we just have to play catch-up from there on.

“That just sums up our whole season. Things have been happening around us, but we try to fight back.”

Tampines had a good chance to restore parity on 39 minutes, but Jordan Webb could fire into the side netting after getting past two defenders.

Albirex held on to the 1-0 lead till half time and almost made it two just after the restart, with Kawata spinning past his marker before producing a top-drawer save from Izwan.

However, it was all Tampines thereafter as Akbar’s side threw the proverbial kitchen sink to rescue the game.

Mustafic, Shahdan and Hafiz all had good attempts on goal, but those were not good enough to trouble Yosuke Nozawa in the Albirex goal.

Pennant then entered the fray to replace Yasir Hanapi with 22 minutes left to go, but he was unable to get things moving in what is likely to be his final appearance with the Stags.

The 33-year-old did deliver a delicious free kick on 84 minutes which caught Nozawa off-guard, but Webb could only head over when it seemed easier to score.

Albirex punished them for their profligacy three minutes later in a lethal breakaway. Nagasaki connected well with substitute Daichi Ishiyama before looping a header beyond the stranded Izwan for the killer goal.

I won’t judge my success at the club. I felt that I did what I could with what I have, after all it’s the first season these boys have been put together.

- I won’t judge my success at the club,” said the former National Football Academy coach. “Even at Spurs, (Mauricio) Pochettino took 60 games (to settle in). "I felt that I did what I could with what I have, after all it’s the first season these boys hav

The final whistle soon sounded to signal a trophy-less season for Tampines, but Akbar insisted it is by no means a bad season for his club.

“Like I said, I won’t judge my success at the club,” said the former National Football Academy coach. “Even at Tottenham, (Mauricio) Pochettino took 60 games (to settle in).

"I felt that I did what I could with what I have, after all it’s the first season these boys have been put together.”

Akbar also insisted there are “no regrets” over the decision to drop Pennant from the starting XI.

“No, I would have done it over a thousand times if I could,” he said. “You guys see what you see from the media’s point of view; that he played in the Champions League final and all that.

“But I see him in training and how he behaves together with players, so I deem who should be in the line-up. He had his chance to turn the game around when he came on.” 

Photos: Weixiang Lim