Lion City Sailors face champions Albirex in test of title credentials
|ALBIREX NIIGATA||LION CITY SAILORS|
Ambition is something that is synonymous with the Lion City Sailors.
The big-spending club have never stopped beefing up their squad, with national captain Hariss Harun and Asian Champions League-winning coach Kim Do-hoon being the latest additions two months ago.
As their Singapore Premier League (SPL) campaign resumes tonight (July 23) following the two-month international break, they will get a severe test of their title credentials.
Awaiting them at the Jurong East Stadium tonight are defending champions Albirex Niigata, whom they have yet to beat in three meetings. The Sailors lost 3-2 twice last season and trailed 2-0 before staging a comeback to draw 2-2 in their home fixture in April.
Kim, who won Asia’s premier club competition with South Korean giants Ulsan Hyundai last year, acknowledged his tough debut ahead.
“We want to play the football we are capable of, but we know Albirex are a good team and it will not be an easy game,” said the 51-year-old.
Hariss, 30, is also aware of the size of the task ahead, saying: “We know how tough it is to play Albirex, so we must be prepared in every aspect to face them.”
The Sailors will be without Saifullah Akbar, Shahdan Sulaiman and Song Ui-young due to suspension.
Top scorer Stipe Plazibat will also be assessed after picking up an injury during their recent 3-0 friendly win over Geylang International.
But there is still much quality in the Sailors' ranks in the likes of Diego Lopes, and national forwards Gabriel Quak and Faris Ramli.
While the two-month hiatus may have affected the momentum of the teams, it has also allowed Albirex's injured players to recover.
First-choice custodian Takahiro Koga is available again after a back injury and left-back Yu Tokiwa has also shaken off a thigh strain, bolstering Albirex’s defensive options greatly.
However, their top scorer Kiyoshiro Tsuboi, who has racked up 11 goals this season, continues to be sidelined with a knee injury and could be out for the rest of the season.
This makes the return of Kuraba Kondo to the starting line-up a welcome addition after the teenage striker missed the previous two matches due to an injury.
White Swans coach Keiji Shigetomi said: “The two-month break was a good time for our injured players to recover and for other players to build up their conditioning. Thus, we think this match will be entertaining for our fans.”
The clash certainly promises to be an enthralling one. Only one point separates leaders Albirex from the second-placed Sailors.
Albirex are also the only unbeaten side this season after 11 games, while the Sailors have won their last six competitive fixtures.
“We have prepared ourselves during this break to work on both attacking and defensive tactics so that our level remains high even after the break,” said Shigetomi.
In other words, it won't be all smooth sailing for the star-studded Sailors tonight.
UP TO 100 FANS ALLOWED
In line with the return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) on Thursday (July 22), only a maximum of 100 fans are allowed to attend Singapore Premier League matches.
In order to gain entry, fans will have to produce proof of a negative Antigen Rapid Test (ART) result or certification of having received the full two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
The ART must be valid until the end of the event and has to be taken at a certified ART practitioner; self-test kit results will not be valid for use of entry.
Individuals who have been vaccinated will be admitted only if the date of the match falls at least 14 days after their second dose.
Individuals aged 12 and below will not be allowed entry into the stadium for SPL matches during this period.