The New Paper League Cup 2017: Albirex Overcome Home To Seal Top Spot
Written by: Phoon Jia Hui
Holders Albirex Niigata (S) marched into the last four of The New Paper League Cup after edging Home United 1-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium on Thursday night.
After a goalless first-half, White Swans forward Tsubasa Sano struck the winner shortly after the restart to help Albirex finish as table toppers of Group A.
Needing a victory to keep their hopes of progression alive, Home head coach Aidil Sharin named an attack minded starting line-up with Croatian duo Marijan Suto and topscorer Stipe Plazibat leading the line.
However, it was the designated visitors who dominated proceedings and hardly allowed Home a sniff at goal in the first-half.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s side could have gotten in front after eight minutes but Ryota Nakai saw his firm left-footed shot parried by Hassan Sunny at the near post.
Albirex were content with keeping the ball thereafter with the next chance coming only in the 27th minute as Kento Nagasaki’s freekick was denied by the woodwork.
Sano and Shoichiro Sakamoto then came close with two headers in the space of nine minutes but they failed to score on both occasions as the two teams went into the break goalless.
The deadlock was however broken seven minutes after the break.
After Nakai had dummied Koki Sato’s pass into the path of a lurking Sano, the 23-year-old took a touch before firing an unstoppable shot into Hassan’s top corner from six yards out.
Stunned by the opener, Sirina Camara and Faris Ramli - who started the match from the bench - were then introduced around the hour mark.
They injected an attacking impetus into attack as the Protectors looked more dangerous going forward.
They were almost rewarded with the equaliser but Izzdin Shafiq’s ambitious effort from range in the 62nd minute sailed narrowly over the bar.
Home piled on the pressure in the closing stages and should have pulled level 10 minutes from time but Suto contrived to nod over from close range off Camara’s left-wing cross.
Moments later, Hariss Harun then had a header which was hacked off the line by Nagasaki as Home bowed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle.
Albirex will now meet the runners-up of Group B in the semi-finals, with either Brunei DPMM or Geylang International being their potential opponents. The match will be played on Tuesday, 18 July.
Home United Head Coach Aidil Sharin: “Of course, I’m frustrated we could not put the ball in the net as we created more chances towards the end.
“Even though we lost, I cannot fault the players’ performance as they gave everything. It was just one mistake that cost us but that’s football. It was good to see us getting back on the right track however, with the return of Aqhari (Abdullah) and Shamil (Sharif) from injuries.”
Albirex Niigata (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “It was our third game in a short period of time and the players were tired but they put up a great performance out there today.
“I was not worried Home would score especially when they kept coming at us. I had full confidence in my players to keep the clean sheet which they did.
“I fielded the same line-up as I did in the last game because I didn’t want my players to rest too much and I believe they can only get stronger from going through this tough phase. Players in Europe encounter a similar situation and I want my players to model themselves after them.”
Home United: Hassan Sunny (GK, C), Shamil Sharif, Abdil Qaiyyim, Hariss Harun, Sufianto Salleh, Luqman Ismail (Sirina Camara 55’), Haziq Azman (Aqhari Abdullah 75’), Izzdin Shafiq, Iqram Rifqi (Faris Ramli 62’), Marijan Suto, Stipe Plazibat
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Rui Kumada 37'), Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Shoichiro Sakamoto, Shuto Inaba (C), Kento Nagasaki, Koki Sato (Ryuya Motoda 73'), Ryota Nakai (Kenya Kodama 90'), Tsubasa Sano