Champions Albirex Niigata (S) have claimed their 20th win of the Singapore Premier League (SPL) season after overcoming a stubborn Young Lions outfit for a 3-1 win at Jalan Besar Stadium on Saturday.
The White Swans got off to a flying start when Kenya Takahashi opened the scoring inside the opening minute, before Shun Kumagai added a second 15 minutes later.
However, Young Lions produced a good response and pulled one back nine minutes before the half-hour mark through a Rusyaidi Salime effort, although Hiroyoshi Kamata struck in the 48th minute to make sure of the result.
Given Albirex have long wrapped up the title, the contest had perhaps less significance than it might originally have had, although there was still plenty for their opponents to play for with spots in the Singapore team up for grabs ahead of November’s AFF Suzuki Cup.
Most recently, six Young Lions – Zulqarnaen Suzliman, Irfan Fandi, Jacob Mahler, Hami Syahin, Haiqal Pashia and Ikhsan Fandi – were called up for Singapore’s friendlies against Mauritius and Fiji, proving that coach Fandi Ahmad is not afraid to put his faith in youth.
There would have been no better way for the Young Lions to prove their worth in a tough test against an Albirex side who have dominated all that have come before them so far this season.
But even Albirex would probably not have expected to make such a flying start on Sunday, when Takahashi received possession from Adam Swandi and proceeded to send a long-range effort past Zharfan Rohaizad.
Then, in the 16th minute, the White Swans duly doubled their advantage when the towering Shun Kumagai – standing all of 1.9 metres – proved unstoppable from a set-piece, climbing highest to head home a Riku Moriyasu corner.
Having fallen two goals behind so early on in the contest, the hosts could have been forgiven for letting their heads drop.
To their credit, they refused to be deterred and pulled one back in the 21st minute when Rusyaidi reacted quickest to Syed Firdaus’ deflected effort to poke the ball into the back of the net – although the goal was later credited as an own-goal to Albirex keeper Yosuke Nozawa.
Still, it was always Albirex who looked the more dangerous of the two teams and they were unlucky not to get a third goal in the 37th minute when Takahashi lined up a free-kick on the edge of the box and unleashed a ferocious strike that clipped the top of the bar.
Any hopes of a Young Lions comeback were then effectively quashed three minutes after the restart when Kamata weaved his way free inside the box and – having been given too much time and space – found the back of the net with a smart finish for his fifth goal of the campaign.
Again, showing spirit that would undoubtedly please their coach, the Young Lions kept pushing forward in search of forcing their way back into the contest.
Nonetheless, Albirex were just able to control proceedings and keep the hosts at bay for the remainder of the contest to claim yet another victory in an all-conquering campaign.