Holders Albirex Niigata FC (S) are on course for a fourth RHB Singapore Cup title as Taku Morinaga’s brace meant they overcame Hougang United 2-0 in the second leg of the quarterfinal tie at Jurong East Stadium on Saturday evening – winning 3-0 on aggregate.
Hougang had their chances in the game, but were made to pay for their profligacy as they went down to goals from Morinaga in each half.
Albirex have now won 38 straight home games – a run that stretches all the back way back to November 2015.
Down 1-0 from the first leg, the away side came in with an aggressive approach to close down Albirex whenever they were in possession and it largely worked in a first half that the White Swans barely threatened their goal.
The Cheetahs should have grabbed a shock lead on 27 minutes when Captain Fabian Kwok put in a teasing cross from the right byline, but South Korean front man Chang Jo Yoon only managed to divert wide from six yards out.
Clement Teo’s men were rather reckless with their challenges at times though and they would pay the price five minutes before half-time.
Illyas Lee hacked down Albirex Captain Wataru Murofushi, leading to the home side being awarded a free-kick 30 yards from goal.
Kenya Takahashi stepped up to deliver a speculative dead ball that Hougang goalkeeper Ridhuan Barudin spilled, with Morinaga on hand to convert the rebound – making it 2-0 on aggregate.
Emotions were rising with Hougang midfielder Syahiran Miswan and Albirex coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga then involved in a spat of words just before the half-time whistle sounded, as both sets of players had to be calmed down while they headed down the tunnel.
Hougang returned for the second half with much more vigour and created a number of good openings, but found Albirex’s evergreen custodian Yohsuke Nozawa a tough nut to crack.
The 38-year-old denied Fazrul in a one-on-one opportunity on 51 minutes, before smothering Iqbal’s close-range right-footed volley 18 minutes later.
Albirex would go on to show them how it should be done in the 71st minute.
Shun Kumagai’s clearance was superbly knocked on by Shuhei Hoshino into the path of Morinaga, who spotted Ridhuan off the line before producing a cool lob from the edge of the box that sailed in.
That goal put Albirex three goals up in the tie and ended any hopes of a Hougang comeback as the White Swans held on to progress.
To rub salt into the Cheetahs’ wounds, they now face a fine after six players got into referee Ahmad A’Qashah’s book on the night.
Meanwhile Albirex march on to face either Tampines Rovers or Home United in the semifinals later this month.
What they said:
Albirex Niigata FC (S) Head Coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga: “Sorry for all the unpleasant things that happened on the pitch and sorry that I could not control my temper. It was mainly because one of my previous players (Daizen Maeda) from high school had a serious injury because of a late tackle in the semifinals of the Asian Games – because of that he could not play in the final.
“In this match, I saw a lot of late tackles and I feel that more should be done to protect players from serious injuries. Thus I was upset but I should be able to control my emotions better.
“We knew Hougang will come aggressively because we need to win this match. As such we told them to stay focused and cool when the bad tackles come. I’m glad our players maintained that most of the time. For the first leg of the semifinal, we will miss the services of two players – ‘Jumbo’ (Hoshino) and Kenya, but we should have enough time to work on different strategies to cope.”
Hougang United FC Caretaker Head Coach Clement Teo: “Practically every game we play in, we created chances but failed to score. You got to give credit to Albirex – they defended well and were very clinical in finishing off their chances.
“What we lack has nothing to do with technical work – what we lack is self belief. We’re trying to motivate them and give them confidence. Now we just need to translate that from training to games. There’re no shortcuts in success.
“I would also like to apologise if our players had gone a little too far, but this is football – it’s a physical game. Sometimes you just need to be more physical to show your presence. I guess my boys did that, but at certain times they just lost it. So I would like to apologise to Albirex for whatever incidents that happened.”
Albirex Niigata FC (S): Yohsuke Nozawa (GK), Riku Moriyasu (Adam Swandi 70’), Shuhei Sasahara, Shun Kumagai, Kenya Takahashi, Hiroyoshi Kamata, Daiki Asaoka, Wataru Murofushi (C), Ryujiro Yamanaka (Ryutaro Shibanoki 90’), Taku Morinaga, Shuhei Hoshino
Hougang United FC: Ridhuan Barudin (GK), Muhaimin Suhaimi, Illyas Lee, Faiz Salleh, Jordan Vestering (Syukri Bashir 28’), Syahiran Miswan, Fabian Kwok(C), Iqbal Hussain, Nazrul Nazari, Chang Jo Yoon (Antoine Viterale 79’), Fazrul Nawaz (Shahfiq Ghani 84’)