A Home United squad high on confidence from clinching the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal title will look to become the first team to earn a win against Singapore Premier League (SPL) champions Albirex Niigata S on Sunday at Bishan Stadium.
The attention wasn’t on SPL champions Albirex Niigata FC S this week, as the Lion City celebrated a monumental moment when Home were crowned AFC Cup ASEAN champions in midweek.
The Protectors overcame all odds to become the first Singaporean team to do so, and at the same time, gave local football a much-needed boost.
Fittingly, they will now take on the White Swans on Sunday in another contest where the odds are stacked against them.
Afterall, Albirex are still unbeaten and have dropped points on just one occasion this year.
But at stake for Home is the second spot in the league, where the team gets the right to compete in the AFC Cup and having tasted success in the competition, they are desperate to have the chance to defend their status as ASEAN champions.
“We must finish as high as possible in order to take part in the AFC Cup again next year,” noted defender Shakir Hamzah.
“It’s a new game for us and we shouldn’t be complacent (despite our AFC Cup success)… if we take this game lightly, we will surely get punished by Albirex.
“Brunei DPMM have two games in hand and to prevent them from catching up to us, we have to do our part instead of hoping for them to drop points. We need to be as close to the top as possible.”
Home are currently a point behind Tampines Rovers, the team who occupy second place currently, while DPMM are six points behind with two games in hand.
The good thing for Home is that Albirex are not too different in quality from Ceres Negros, the Filipino side they defeated on Wednesday, and they have shown they can compete with the best of the best.
“We have shown that we are capable of soaking up the toughest attacking players in the AFC Cup, so if we play to our strength, we will be able to do well against Albirex Niigata S,” said Shakir.
“With Song (Ui-yong) and Isaka (Cernak) in the squad, we can have a different game plan with two attacking talents in the squad.”
But Shakir feels that the most important thing for the Protectors on Sunday is to believe in themselves.
“We have to believe that we can do it against them. There must be self-belief among us to beat Albirex,” the defender said.
Home will have Arshad Shamim out suspended, while centre-back Abdil Qaiyyim is likely to miss this fixture after suffering a hamstring injury against Ceres midweek.
The good news is that Shahrin Saberin, who replaced Abdil in the game, put on a solid showing, while Isaka Cernak already looks comfortable in a Home jersey. Song’s goalscoring return against Ceres will no doubt give Home a massive boost as well.
Kaishu Yamazaki remains a doubt for Albirex, who should have everyone else availabe.
09/06/18: Albirex 3-0 Home – Singapore Premier League
18/04/18: Home 1-6 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
30/09/17: Home 1-2 Albirex – Singapore Cup
27/09/17: Albirex 3-1 Home – Singapore Cup
19/09/17: Home 1-1 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR
Song Ui-yong – Home United
The forward played as though he was never away against Ceres, putting in a outstanding shift and even scored the second goal to put the game out of reach for the Filipino side. A player with high energy, Song was everywhere on the pitch, helping out his defence when he wasn’t linking up with Shahril Ishak and Cernak in the attacking third.
It was his off the ball movement that got him his goal against Ceres. A player who makes Home tick in attack, Song will be key for the Protectors against Albirex.
Shuhei Hoshino – Albirex Niigata FC S
The towering striker is continued his impressive goalscoring form against Brunei DPMM in midweek and looks set to run away with the topscorer award this year.
Strong on the ball, but surprisingly quick with his feet for someone of his size, Hoshino has proved to be a tough one to stop for opposing defences all year. With 19 goals to his name already, along with five assists, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Japanese striker ends up as a nominee for Player of the Year.
WHAT ELSE THEY SAID
Home defender Shakir: “We don’t need to prove anything to Albirex. We need to be at our best to do well this weekend. There’s no room for complacency, but more hard work and determination to improve ourselves as a team and individual.”
Albirex forward Adam Swandi: “Of course their morale will be boosted after the great achievement but we will take this game like any other game we have played which is to be 100 per cent focused on doing what we should do individually and as a team. We shouldn’t be afraid of them and should play our game and try to get all three points.
“Coach Yoshinaga always say, every game is a chance to improve ourselves individually and as a team. Yes we may have won the league but that doesn’t change anything as we have to keep on improving if we want to stay as professional footballers in the future. We have to keep on delivering good performances and results for the remaining league games and also the upcoming cup.”