Community Shield-winners Albirex Niigata have gone some way to prove that their quadruple ambition is not an empty boast by sweeping aside the hapless Garena Young Lions 5-0 last night at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
In front of 2,371 fans, striker Atsushi Kawata also became the first player to score four goals in an S.League match since Nicolas Velez achieved the feat for Warriors FC, incidentally in a 4-0 win over Albirex in April 2014, as the White Swans soared to the top of the table.
With 27 goals in 27 league games last term, Albirex were the lowest scorers and critics felt the Japanese side could have won their first league title with more goals; just two games into the new season, they have now scored eight goals in barnstorming fashion.
Albirex coach Naoki Naruo was naturally pleased with the big win, but was also mindful that the rout came against a bunch of predominantly Under-21s without much experience at this level.
The 41-year-old said: "We kept a clean sheet and played very good football.
"But, for me, it is more important for us to show our style of football than to score many goals."
To that end, his players duly conducted a clinic in composed defending, even with striker Kazuki Mine thrown into central defence following Kento Fuijihara's ankle injury, penetrative passing and clinical finishing - a style which the Young Lions aspire to master.
It took the visitors just eight minutes to open the scoring, when Daichi Ishiyama was freed on the left to cross for an unmarked Kawata to head past Zharfan Rohaizad.
The hosts held up well, but all it took was a defence-splitting through-ball by Masaya Jitozono to crush the Young Lions' resilience, as Kawata poached again in the 56th minute.
More devastating passes and crosses came in from all directions for Kawata to make an early claim for the Golden Boot as he scored again in the 64th and 79th minutes, with Jitozono also getting on to the scoresheet with a 71st-minute penalty for a Young Lions hand-ball.
It was an inauspicious S.League debut for Young Lions coach Patrick Hesse, but he was encouraged by his young charges' first-half display in which they defended resolutely with tactical discipline.
The 58-year-old Frenchman added: "Before the match, I said Albirex are the best in the league and after the game, it just confirmed what I thought.
"Technically, tactically, physically and mentally, they are a good side, and it is a good match for our young team to learn and progress from.
"We know with National Service, studies and injuries, this would be a tough season, but we will get better in two or three months.
"Our objective this season is still to develop players for the national team and we will analyse this match, learn from our mistakes and not repeat the same mistakes."
GARENA YOUNG LIONS: Zharfan Rohaizad, Rusyaidi Salime, Taufiq Muqminin, Ashrul Syafeeq, Gareth Low, Zulfadhmi Suzliman (Jonathan Tan 59), Ammirul Emmran Mazlan, Firdaus Kasman, Hami Syahin (Muhelmy Suhaimi 69), Fareez Farhan, Adam Swandi (Darren Yap 73)
ALBIREX NIIGATA: Yosuke Nozawa, Tadaaki Yazawa (Ryoh Kurihara 90), Rui Kumada, Atsushi Shirota, Kazuki Mine, Naofumi Tanaka, Masaya Jitozono, Kento Nagasaki, Hiroyoshi Kamata (Tatsuro Inui 80), Daichi Ishiyama (Shuma Miyata 80), Atsushi Kawata
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH: Atsushi Kawata (Albirex)
GREAT EASTERN-YEO'S S.LEAGUE
GARENA YOUNG LIONS 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 5
(Atsushi Kawata 8, 56, 64, 79, Masaya Jitozono 71-pen)
Before the match, I said Albirex are the best in the league and after the game, it just confirmed what I thought. - Garena Young Lions coach
This article was first published on Feb 21, 2016.
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