Advantage Albirex as Geylang waste chances
Changes pay off for Cup holders, who have one foot in the semis
QUARTER-FINAL, FIRST LEG
ALBIREX NIIGATA 2 (MASAYA JITOZONO 1, NAOFUMI TANAKA 53)
GEYLANG INT'L 0
Those who thought that Albirex Niigata's confidence had been dented after their 10-game winning run in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League was snapped by Tampines Rovers were proven wrong last night.
The White Swans, who looked out of sorts in the heart-breaking defeat last week, bounced back to beat Geylang International 2-0 in the first leg of their RHB Singapore Cup quarter-final clash at the Jurong East Stadium.
Early strikes in both halves separated the two sides in a game marred by niggly fouls, crunching tackles, numerous yellow cards and a sending-off for Geylang general manager Aizat Ramli.
"I think we were quite lucky to score the first goal," said Albirex coach Naruki Naruo, after the game.
"It changed the complexion of the game as Geylang pressed us from then on and we had to defend well because they had a number of chances to score."
Naruo made a number of changes to his starting line-up in a bid to freshen things up, naming Daichi Ishiyama, Masaya Jitozono and Kazuki Mine in the first 11, in place of Tomoki Menda, Tatsuro Inui and Atsushi Kawata, the league's top scorer.
"We wanted to control possession in this game and that's why I put Masaya (Jitozono) in the middle and wanted to bring on our key players once Geylang became tired.
"But they did not make it easy for us and I know it will be tough in the second leg."
The Japanese coach's tinkering worked a treat just 12 seconds after kick-off. Ishiyama and Jitozono combined well just outside the penalty box for the latter to slot home past a bewildered Syazwan Buhari.
Geylang crafted some chances but were unable to beat Albirex custodian Yosuke Nozawa, who made several key saves, including a ferocious Carlos Delgado shot from close range.
The Eagles' frustration showed near the end of the first half. The Geylang bench were incensed over a decision that went against them and protested furiously to fourth official Jansen Foo.
Aizat squared up to Foo, who called referee G Letchman, and the Geylang general manager was sent to the stands.
The cup-holders doubled their lead eight minutes after the restart when Naofumi Tanaka powered home a header from Kento Nagasaki's corner-kick.
Geylang coach Hasrin Jailani brought on two strikers including new signing, Mark Hartmann, and Sahil Suhaimi, but Albirex hung on.