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 By Gabriel Tan

Albirex Niigata (S) claim first-ever S.League title with quadruple in sight

Albirex Niigata vs. Hougang
Albirex Niigata (S) sealed their first-ever S.League title with a 3-0 win over Hougang United at Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday.

Albirex Niigata (S) won the S.League title for the first time in their 13-year history after a dominant 3-0 win over Hougang United at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Friday.

An early goal from Atsushi Kawata settled the nerves for the champions before Masaya Jitozono smashed home a free kick to make it two goals in eight minutes.

Rui Kumada added a third in the 32nd minute to complete a clinical display, one that was enough to see them become champions.

The stage was set for a historic moment in Albirex's history as they entered Friday's game knowing three points would be enough to see them claim an unassailable 10-point lead over Tampines Rovers, the only club that still had a mathematical chance of stopping them.

Albirex did previously have a chance to all but wrap up the title in their previous outing, only to fall to a shock 2-0 defeat to Warriors FC at the end of last month.

However, any hopes Tampines had prior to the game was extinguished just four minutes from the get go.

It was little more than a routine clearance from Kento Fujihara but the Hougang defence were somehow caught out, paving the way for Kawata to race through and lob Khairulhin Khalid.

It was 2-0 by the eighth minute and Kawata was once again involved as he was hauled down on the edge of the box, paving the way for Jitozono to bend a 20-yard free kick into the bottom corner.

The Cheetahs did have a chance to pull one back in the 17th minute but Fairoz Hasan could only stab a shot wide after an enterprising run from M. Anumanthan, while Albirex were denied a third goal 10 minutes later when Khairulhin produced a brilliant save to keep out a firm volley from Naofumi Tanaka.

But the pressure from the White Swans was relentless and they duly struck again two minutes after the half-hour mark when Kawata showing tremendous determination by the touchline to force his way past three players and set Kumada up for a simple finish.

A long break in the second period due to heavy rain did not dampen the celebrations for the Japanese outfit as they coasted through the remainder of the game to write their name into S.League history.

Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Kento Fujihara, Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba, Masaya Jitozono (Mikiya Yamada 69'), Rui Kumada (Tatsuro Inui 77'), Daichi Ishiyama (Tomoki Menda 90'), Atsushi Kawata.

Hougang United: Khairulhin Khalid, Nazrul Nazari (Faiz Salleh 78'), Nurhilmi Jasni, Afiq Noor, Huzaifah Aziz (Iqbal Hussain 46'), Fairoz Hasan, M. Anumanthan, Raihan Rahman, Jozef Kaplan, Stipe Plazibat, Fumiya Kogure.

Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.

 

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