S-League: Up for a title fight

The 2015 Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League campaign will be Albirex Niigata's (Singapore) 12th year playing in Singapore.

They finished third twice over the past three seasons and believe this is their time.

Their target this season is the S.League crown and the feeder club of the J-League team mean business.

Speaking to The New Paper last night, Albirex chairman Daisuke Korenaga said: "That is exactly what I told my players and coach; this has to be our year."

He was speaking on the sidelines of the club's "Sponsors Party" at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night, when the 2015 squad were also unveiled.

The Japanese side finished fifth last year and Korenaga warned the other contenders when he said: "I'm very sure this is a better team. During pre-season, we played six friendly matches against other S.League sides and won all six - so why not?"

In their effort to lift the S.League title for the first time, Albirex have signed two players straight from the top flight in Japan and retained just three squad members from last season.

Goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa, 35, who arrived from Matsumoto Yamaga FC, made 75 appearances in the J-League for Albirex and Shimuzu S-Pulse.

Former Japan youth international Fumiya Kogure, a 25-year-old midfielder, has joined the team after 45 appearances for the J-League side.

Striker Shotaro Ihata, the club's top scorer with 22 goals in the 2011 season, is also back to boost the strikeforce.

Ihata, 28, had unsuccessful spells with Home United (2012) and Geylang (2013) before moving to Myanmar last year.


Said Korenaga: "We now have more experienced players in the team and there is also potential in our younger players.

"(Strikers) Rion Taki and Atsushi Kawata will be the ones to watch. They had offers to play in the J-League not long ago."

It took eight years before the Albirex lifted their first piece of silverware in Singapore - the StarHub League Cup in 2011, when they beat Hougang United in the final on penalties.

That year, the White Swans lost the RHB Singapore Cup final to Home United after extra time, but it wasn't until the following season when they made their biggest challenge for the league crown.

In 2012, Albirex led the league with nine games remaining, but spluttered during the run-in and ended up third, nine points behind eventual winners Tampines Rovers.

Albirex coach Tatsuyuki Okuyama was more guarded than his chairman, though.

The 39-year-old, a former Albirex defender in the J-League, did not reveal any targets, saying they would learn from the lessons of 2014.

"Last year, we had a young team, most of whom were playing overseas for the first time," said Okuyama, who was a rookie coach last year.

"It was a learning experience for both the players and myself.

"Our football this year will be slightly different. We will be more attacking.

"As always, our motto is to entertain the fans.

This article was first published on Feb 26, 2015.
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