Suave White Swans Thumps Harimau Muda
Written by: Khalis Rifhan
Albirex Niigata (S) kept their title hopes alive as they saw off a gutsy Harimau Muda’s side 4-1 at Pasir Gudang Stadium on Friday night.
Buoyed by their two previous wins against Woodlands Wellington and Tanjong Pagar, the hosts took the lead through Ramzi Sufian in the 20th minute.
But that goal was just a false start as the visitors got their act together and snatched maximum points courtesy of Kazuki Sakamoto’s hat-trick and a goal by Taiyo Nishida.
Both teams started the match with strong intent as they went on a flurry of attacks from the start but Harimau’s defence crumbled after scoring the opening goal.
Leading the frontline for the Malaysians were Ramzi Sufian and Nurshamil Ghani while the White Swans deployed main striker Sakamoto alongside Kazuya Okazaki.
A long ball from Albirex’s Kento Fujihara found Sakamoto at the penalty box and with only Harimau goalkeeper Ramdhan Hamid to beat, Sakamoto was let down by a poor second touch of the ball in the 11th minute.
It was the host’s turn to venture into the final third as Nurshamil found space in the danger area and tried his luck from distance in the 18th minute. But Nurshamil’s attempt was weak and did not cause any problem for Albirex goalkeeper Kazuki Kishigami.
Harimau were let off the hook minutes later as the visitors spurned a glorious opportunity when Keisuke Ota threaded a low cross in but Nagasaki failed to connect with the ball in the six yards box.
The opening goal of the match came soon after when Ramzi was brought down at the edge of the penalty box.
Although Kishigami pulled off a brilliant one-handed save from Shahrul Igwan’s set-piece, the White Swans failed to clear the ball to safety. Ramzi got onto the rebound and rounded a few white shirts before sliding the ball to the bottom corner to give Razip Ismail’s side the lead in the 20th minute.
But the lead lasted only for eight minutes as Albirex levelled the score midway through the first half.
Nagasaki floated the ball into the dangerous area from a corner kick and Sakamoto thumped a header past the hapless Ramdhan.
Tatsukiyu Okuyama’s charges came out of the dressing room with the same energy and determination as the first half and took the lead barely four minutes into the second half.
Again from a corner kick, defender Taiyo Nishida was left unmarked in the box and he nodded home Okazaki’s ball to the back of the net.
Albirex extended their lead six minutes after the hour mark as Harimau’s defence was caught flat footed by Nagasaki’s long ball to Sakamoto in the final third. With goalkeeper Ramdhan rushing out of his goal-line, Sakamoto cleverly floated the ball over the goalkeeper and into an empty net.
Sakamoto completed his hat-trick in the final quarter as he got onto the end of a through pass and poked the ball beyond the unfortunate Ramdhan.
With the result, Harimau remain rooted to the bottom of the table on six points while Albirex maintained their hold on fifth position on 23 points.