Albirex set sights on S.League title

Albirex Niigata (S) coach Koichi Sugiyama has set his sights on winning the Great Eastern-YEO's S.League title in the 2013 season.

Bruno Castanheira, Albirex Niigata
Gabriel Tan

By Gabriel Tan

The White Swans, who have been part of Singaporean football's top flight since 2004, spent most of last term challenging for the title before fading away in the latter stages to finish third, nine points behind champions Tampines Rovers.

However, it remains to be seen if they can match their displays from 2012 after losing a majority of their first-team squad, retaining just defender Yuki Ichikawa, anchorman Shuhei Hotta and winger Masatake Sato.

Nonetheless, Sugiyama, speaking after Thursday's 1-0 pre-season friendly defeat to Tanjong Pagar United, has no doubt his new-look squad has what it takes to challenge for top honours in the coming campaign.

"Of course we want to do well," he said. "Our target is to finish as S.League champions - it is the same every year.

"I believe we can do it; the team is filled up with good players. We only retained three players - Ichikawa, Hotta and Sato - but it is not a problem because we change the team every year.

"I have a very young team but that is not a problem. It doesn't matter whether you are 19 or 30 years of age - when you enter the football pitch, everyone is the same."

Like with most seasons, the new faces at the Jurong East Stadium are largely unrecognisable as the club continue to provide the platform for young Japanese players to seek out a career in professional football.

Still, one man that many S.League followers will be familiar with is Bruno Castanheira, who starred for the side from 2010 to 2011 before earning a move back to the Albirex Niigata parent club in the J.League.

Although he's still only 22, Castanheira will be one of Sugiyama's senior players in 2013 and the Japanese tactician expects him to play an influential role.

"Bruno Castanheira is a good player," he added. "He had some good experiences with Albirex (Japan) in the J.League.

"He matured a lot over the last year and his experience will be beneficial for this team."

And while Thursday's defeat came against a Jaguars side that finished eight places below them last season, Sugiyama was pleased with his team's overall display.

"It was a good performance by the team all around," the ex-Urawa Reds man said. "We managed to play to our philosophy.

"It was a good training match and I have no problems with the players not converting the chances that we created. The pitch was a bit hard today [Thursday].

"Both the goalkeepers are good. [Hiroaki] Hara, while [Kenjiro] Ogino comes from the J.League."

Sugiyama took over at the helm of Albirex in 2010 and led them to their first piece of silverware a year later when they won the League Cup.



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