Albirex beat Tampines in Singapore Cup final for trophy quadruple
Albirex Niigata (S) created history on Saturday evening after beating Tampines Rovers 2-0 to lift the RHB Singapore Cup, becoming the first team to win the treble of major trophies in Singapore football history.
In fact, it was a silverware quadruple for the Japanese outfit who began the season by winning the 2016 Charity Shield before tasting glory in the League Cup, S.League and Singapore Cup.
Atsushi Kawata capitalised on a rare error by opposition keeper Izwan Mahbud to hand the White Swans the lead at Jalan Besar Stadium in the 28th minute. Kento Nagasaki nodded home another with three minutes remaining to seal a well-deserved victory.
Saturday's clinical triumph completed a staggering year of dominance from the Japanese outfit.
Although they did enter the final as slight favourites, Albirex were expected to come up against a stern challenge from the Stags, who were looking to end their season on a high after finishing second behind their opponents in the S.League.
Tampines certainly looked like they were up for the fight from the opening whistle, and arguably had the better of the early exchanges.
The first opening of the game arrived in the sixth minute when Billy Mehmet did well to hold up play and lay it off to Shahdan Sulaiman. He found Hafiz Abu Sujad only for the latter to blaze over from a tight angle.
It was then the White Swans' turn to threaten 10 minutes later, but Hiroyoshi Kamata snatched at his shot, and sent it wide after being set up by Rui Kumada.
Then, a huge moment in the context of the clash happened in the 28th minute. The usually reliable Izwan received possession, and dallied too long in possession, allowing Kawata to nip in, and poke the ball into the unguarded goal.
To their credit, the Stags made a concerted effort to get back into the contest, and Shahdan was doing his best to dissect the resilient Albirex defence.
Another terrific pass from the Singapore international released Jordan Webb down the left. But, instead of looking for a teammate, the Canadian opted to go it alone, and could only stab his shot into the side-netting.
Izwan did make amends for his error right at the start of the second half when he denied Albirex a second goal, tipping a ferocious effort by Kawata over the bar.
But despite Tampines' determined efforts, they were just unable to really carve out a clear opening that could have led to an equaliser.
Their final opportunity arrived in the 84th minute from Jermaine Pennant, who came off the bench with 22 minutes to go. In what was almost certainly his final appearance for the club, whipped in a dangerous free kick into the box, only for Webb to fail to keep his header on target.
And with the Stags, by now, staging an all-out assault on the opposition goal, it left huge gaps at the back which Albirex exploited three minutes from time.
Racing down the left in a sweeping counterattack, Daichi Ishiyama floated an inch-perfect cross to pick out Nagasaki. He made no mistake by guiding a looping header into the far corner to put the result beyond doubt.
While he was understandably delighted at what his charges had achieved over the course of the season, Albirex coach Naoki Naruo insists they will not be resting on their laurels when 2017 arrives.
"Winning titles is very important for any club," he said. "We need to ensure we keep on challenging. "I think the next step is for us to continue evolving so that we become one of the important clubs in Singapore.
"We knew it was going to be a very tough game but we got stronger as the game wore on. "For me, this is one of the happiest days of my life."
Meanwhile, Tampines coach Akbar Nawas refused to be overly disheartened by the defeat, even though he believes the result had been an accurate reflection of how their year panned out.
"This sums up the whole season for us," said Akbar. "I never want to put it down to luck but to concede the opening goal the way we did definitely dampened the spirits and, from then, we were always playing catch up.
"Winning the cup would have been icing on the cake and in the end it wasn't meant to be, but I certainly feel it hasn't been a bad season as well."
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa, Tomoki Menda, Atsushi Shirota, Kento Fujihara, Naofumi Tanaka, Mikiya Yamada, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki (Masaya Jitozono 90'), Hiroyoshi Kamata (Daichi Ishiyama 65'), Atsushi Kawata, Rui Kumada (Kazuki Mine 80')
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud, Ismadi Mukhtar, Fahrudin Mustafic, Shakir Hamzah, Irwan Shah (Afiq Yunos 83'), Yasir Hanapi (Jermaine Pennant 68'), Izzdin Shafiq, Jordan Webb, Shahdan Sulaiman, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Billy Mehmet
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.