Tampines Rovers midfielder Fahrudin Mustafic is bent on stopping Albirex Niigata FC (S) from ending the season with a perfect record.
Having lost two head-to-head encounters this season courtesy of last-gasp goals, Tampines Rovers are bent on revenge this Saturday evening as they seek to become the first team in 2018 to stop Albirex Niigata FC (S) from collecting full points.
There are three certainties in life – death, taxes and Albirex winning football matches, at least that’s the case till date in 2018.
Week after week, the White Swans continue to show why they deserve to be at the top by conquering each and every challenge ahead of them.
Warriors FC pushed them hard the last time out, but they still emerged 2-0 winners at home to collect their 15th consecutive win of the season and maintain their 100 percent record.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s men are now edging ever closer to a third successive league crown. In fact if they beat Tampines on Saturday, they could seal the title next Wednesday by beating Young Lions while hoping Tampines lose to Brunei DPMM on the same night.
However defender Kenya Takahashi refuses to count the chickens before they are hatched, with Tampines proving to be a tough nut to crack this season. In the two head-to-head encounters this season, they required late goals to collect three points.
In the season-opening Community Shield at the National Stadium in late March, it was Shuhei Hoshino’s 89th-minute strike that won them the game 2-1.
In another epic game at Our Tampines Hub in mid-May, Tampines came from behind thrice to level the game and looked set to earn a valuable point before Daiki Asaoka’s long-range rocket in the dying stages sealed a 4-3 win for the visiting White Swans.
“As the (100 percent) record goes longer, there is more pressure to succeed but we will do our best in all our games,” said the 22-year-old.
“We conceded three against Tampines the last time and we have to concede lesser goals this time in order to win the game. It’s important that we try not to be defeated in one-versus-one situations and stop them from putting in crosses.”
With 16 points separating the two sides from first and second, Tampines Captain Fahrudin Mustafic admits the table does not make for pretty reading and has emphasised on putting an end to Albirex’s invincibility.
“We came so close to Albirex two times this season, but we lost to last-minute goals. Maybe luck’s not our side, but look – they won 15 games in a row and we got to give them credit for that,” said the 37-year-old.
“However Saturday is a brand new game – we really want to show and prove that we can at least get points from them. To be honest for me personally, it will be shameful if they really win all the games this season. So we will try to play for pride and I believe we can do something.”
Of course it will be easier said than done, with Albirex on an incredible run of 34 straight victories at their Jurong East den and Tampines have not won the past eight head-to-heads.
The last time the Stags prevailed in this fixture, it was a 5-1 victory in a meaningless final game of the 2016 season where both sides have already guaranteed their positions.
TEAM NEWS: The big miss for Albirex is key centre-back Kaishu Yamazaki, who is ruled out for the rest of the campaign due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
Fellow centre-back Shun Kumagai made the bench against Warriors after a long lay-off and could see some minutes.
As for Tampines, they will miss the suspended duo of Irfan Najeeb and Yasir Hanapi.
Main forward Khairul Amri sustained an ankle injury in last Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Home United FC, but is expected to be fit for this one.
Albirex Niigata FC (S): WWWWW
Tampines Rovers FC: LWWLD
20/05/18 Tampines 3-4 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
31/03/18 Albirex 2-1 Tampines – Singapore Premier League/ Community Shield
19/08/17 Albirex 4-0 Tampines – Singapore Premier League
13/08/17 Albirex 2-0 Tampines – Singapore Cup
10/08/17 Tampines 1-5 Albirex – Singapore Cup
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR:
Shuhei Sasahara (Albirex Niigata FC (S))
Kumagai’s early-season injury paved the way for Sasahara to break into the first team and he has not looked back since. With Yamazaki unavailable for the rest of the year, the 21-year-old is now the lynchpin of the White Swans defence and his assured defending will make it hard for Tampines to find the breakthrough.
Ryutaro Megumi (Tampines Rovers FC)
It has been an odd season for Megumi as he has failed to replicate the heights of his debut campaign in 2017, despite mustering decent numbers (four goals and five assists). Having not netted in his last seven matches, the 25-year-old owes a big performance to the Stags against his compatriots.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID:
Albirex defender Kenya Takahashi: “We’re close to winning the title and it’s important for us to seal it early, so that it provides us with the confidence to do well in the upcoming Singapore Cup. The support from our home fans has been fantastic and because of them, we are able to do well at Jurong East.
“As for myself, I feel that Head Coach has helped me to improve in my defensive play tactically as you know I was a forward in high school. I try to model myself after Marcelo, as you can see he does the job well in defending as well as in attacking, by bringing the ball forward and putting in great crosses for his team mates.”
Tampines defender Fahrudin Mustafic: “Nothing is done yet and it’s still a long way to go with nine more games. After losing to DPMM and drawing against Home, we really have to push ourselves to start winning again. Looking at the table, Home and DPMM are most likely to push us all the way so we really need to secure second.
“The schedule is tight, with games every four days. Thus it’s important to have a squad with good players on the bench, who is ready to come in and replace the first eleven. We’re ready for a strong performance against Albirex. After losing to them twice in the last minute, I really don’t mind beating them in the last min – hopefully that will happen.”