S-League: Sakamoto benefits from close ties with strike partner

"We do not competeagainst each other. During games, we look for each other as soon as we get the ball." - Kazuki Sakamoto (above) on playing with childhood friend Bruno Castanheira.

SINGAPORE - There is a level of understanding between Albirex Niigata's two front men not found in any other strike partnership in the S-League.

Kazuki Sakamoto and Bruno Castanheira might have started playing together professionally only this season.

But, considering they were childhood friends from the Shiga Prefecture in Japan since the age of seven, it is little wonder that they clicked from the word go.

Sakamoto has certainly reaped the dividends of the partnership.

The 23-year-old, who arrived at the club from Ritsumeikan University in December, has been sneaking up the scorers' table almost undetected, with nine goals in 16 matches.

He shares top spot with Tanjong Pagar's Monsef Zerka and Geylang's Jozef Kaplan.

His co-striker, Bruno, 23, has three goals.

Albirex coach Koichi Sugiyama said he was not surprised Sakamoto is thriving in his debut season in the S-League.

The 42-year-old said his young striker resembles former player Shotaro Ihata, now with Geylang International, who notched 22 goals for the White Swans during the 2011 season.

Said the coach: "Kazuki is very similar in style to Shotaro, (although) I think he is better while in possession of the ball.

"One reason he's doing so well this year is his strong partnership with Bruno. They have a very good relationship on and off the pitch. Bruno actually introduced Kazuki to us."

Indeed, when the long-haired Sakamoto arrived in Singapore, Castanheira, who first featured in the S-League in 2010, played a big part in getting him assimilated with the new surroundings.

"He introduced me to the city and all the good restaurants," Sakamoto said.

"We are friends off the pitch and, on the pitch, we have a good understanding.

"We do not compete against each other. During games, we look for each other as soon as we get the ball."

Bruno explained that he and Sakamoto were neighbours back in Japan.

Although they did not attend the same school, they played football together and often lined up for the same team.

Belief

"We believe in each other and know each other's style well," Bruno said.

"It's true that Kazuki is very similar to Shotaro, in terms of the role he plays.

"I had a good partnership with Shotaro so it's no surprise that Kazuki and I combine well too."

Sakamoto is not getting carried away with his nine-goal tally. More importantly, he wants to help Albirex win the S-League title this year.

The White Swans trail leaders Tampines by four points, but have played a game more.

"I was hopeful of success before I came to Singapore," Sakamoto said.

"Thanks to my teammates, I've been scoring goals. But I haven't really set myself a goal target. I just want to keep scoring and help Albirex finish as champions."

Sakamoto hopes that his fine run will attract interest from clubs in the J-League, where he hopes to ply his trade in the future.

"It's my dream to play at a higher level one day, whether in the J-League or not," he said. "For now, I'm definitely enjoying my football in Albirex."

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