Comeback kings Albirex Niigata win Singapore Cup to complete double
Japanese outfit Albirex Niigata (S) clinched a domestic cup double after coming from behind to beat Home United 2-1 in the 2015 RHB Singapore Cup final at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday night.
The White Swans produced a miraculous comeback in the final 15 minutes to beat Balestier Khalsa in the TNP League Cup final four months ago, and they replicated the feat against a Home side that had to see out much of the 90 minutes with 10 men.
Abdil Qaiyyim had given the Protectors a dream lead on 72 minutes, but Albirex substitutes Rion Taki and Kento Nagasaki scored within the space of eight minutes thereafter to complete a swift turnaround.
It was a scrappy affair in the first 20 minutes with both sides taking potshots from way out. However, all it took was a red card for the game to turn on its head.
Home's Fazli Ayob was given a straight red by referee Ahmad A'Qashah for kicking out at Shun Inaba, leaving the Protectors to play 64 minutes with a man down.
The numerical disadvantage seemed to have affected them initially, with Yusuke Mukai somehow lashing over from six yards after being teed up by Mikiya Yamada.
However Philippe Aw's men soon settled down into their rhythm and started to play their usual passing game, creating two opportunities towards the end of the first half.
Kamel Ramdani's stunning 25-yard curler crashed off the inside of the crossbar with Albirex goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa beaten all hands down, while Ken Ilso curled wide after going past two players.
Albirex regrouped in the second half and should have went ahead on the 65th minute when Itsuki Yamada's free kick was parried by Home custodian Shahril Jantan, however Kento Fujihara contrived to put it high into the Jalan Besar skyline when it seemed easier to score.
Against the odds, Home went on to open the scoring seven minutes later. A moment of brilliance by veteran right-back Juma'at Jantan set up Yasir with a teasing ball into the six-yard box for centre-back Abdil to smash into the top corner.
Just when it seemed like the Cup was heading Home's way for the seventh time in history, super-subs Taki and Nagasaki entered the stage to steal the heavy piece of silverware for Albirex.
On 78 minutes, Taki rose above Yasir at the back post to nod home Fumiya Kogure's inswinging corner.
Then, with just three minutes to go, the goalscorer turned provider by putting in a brilliant low cross for Nagasaki to fire a first-time finish to send their fans into celebratory mood.
It was a lead which the White Swans never relinquished as they became the first team to clinch a League Cup and Singapore Cup double.
Victorious coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama was naturally pleased to see his substitutions work out.
"Throughout the season we used different tactics," said the 39-year-old. "I felt that some players should start the game, while some should be left on the bench and make an impact later in the game. That's what I did with Taki and Nagasaki, luckily I'm proven right."
Meanwhile losing counterpart Aw was gutted that his side could not hold on to the lead till the end.
"The early sending game totally changed the game," reflected the first-year coach. "We had everything planned for this game, but it all changed because of one individual.
"Despite being one-man down, we outplayed Albirex and even took the lead. It's disappointing that we conceded two late on, but I'm proud of the 10 players that fought on - they were outstanding."
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa (GK, C), Mikiya Yamada, Takahiro Saito, Kento Fujihara, Itsuki Yamada, Hikaru Mizuno, Shun Inaba, Fumiya Kogure, Yusuke Mukai (Kento Nagasaki 79'), Atsushi Kawata, Rui Kumada (Rion Taki 74')
Home United: Shahril Jantan (GK), Juma'at Jantan (C), Abdil Qaiyyim, Sirina Camara, Sufianto Salleh (Ambroise Begue 76'), Kamel Ramdani, Yasir Hanapi, Stanely Ng, Azhar Sairudin (Imran Sahib 86'), Fazli Ayob, Ken Ilso