Lion City Sailors edge new-look Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 to claim 2022 AIA Community Shield

Kim Shin-Wook nets brace on debut including a spectacular volleyed winner to help last year's Singapore Premier League champions to the first piece of silverware this season

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


20 February 2022, Singapore - In a tightly contested affair at the Jalan Besar Stadium, the Lion City Sailors emerged victorious in the Singapore Premier League’s annual curtain raiser despite being without the services of several players competing in the AFF U-23 Championship.


The 983-strong crowd waited with bated breath as both sets of players walked out in the sweltering Saturday evening heat.


It had been four months since the 2021 SPL season concluded, and fans were eager to watch two of the league’s top teams face off in the unofficial season opener.

Albirex went through an eventful winter break, bringing back former SPL-winning manager Kazuaki Yoshinaga. Apart from goalkeeper Takahiro Koga, 22, and Singaporean Hilman Norhisam, 17, the rest of the starting 11 were mostly made up of fresh-faced Japanese university graduates.


It was also the first sighting of the Sailors’ marquee signing Kim Shin Wook, 33, as well as Albirex’s new acquisition; former Southampton striker Tadanari Lee, 36.


Kim, who is believed to be on a three-year deal worth more than $3 million, played an influential role in Ulsan Hyundai’s Asian Champions League triumph in 2012. The 1.98m-tall striker was also a part of South Korea’s 2018 World Cup Finals 23-man squad.

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE


Lee has 11 international caps for Japan, famously scoring the winning goal in the 2011 Asian Cup final. The skillful forward also won Southampton’s Goal of the Season award during the 2011/12 season when the Saints were competing in the EFL Championship.


The Korean and Japanese duo gave anticipating spectators their moneys’ worth, sharing all three goals between them in an exhilarating contest.


After a cagey start to proceedings, it was Lee who drew first blood in the 14th minute, drawing a foul from Sailors’ stalwart Shahdan Sulaiman which led referee Jansen Foo to point to the spot.

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Advantage Albirex


There were audible groans from the home supporters but the Japanese international kept his cool to tuck his spot-kick away, giving Albirex the early advantage.


The White Swans kept up their pressure, nearly doubling their lead when defender Keito Hariya headed a whipped cross from winger Masaya Idetsu against the crossbar.


Moments later, it was Albirex’s industrious left-back Daichi Omori’s turn to deliver a tantalising cross into the 6-yard area which narrowly evaded an onrushing Lee.


The Sailors endured a frustrating spell without possession, with Kim fortunate to avoid a booking following a late tackle on Omori at the half-hour mark.

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Sailors Draw Level


However, despite a quiet first 40 minutes, the Korean forward was central when the tides turned in favour of the Sailors.


Kim used his towering frame to nod a looping cross from defender Tajeli Salamat over a hapless Koga, who was caught in no man’s land.


Against the run of play, both sides were level at the half-time break with all to play for.


The reigning champions took the initiative right from the restart, introducing combative midfielder Anumanthan Kumar, who immediately fired a powerful drive from 30-yards out over the bar.


Shortly after, Sailors’ winger Faris Ramli used his nifty footwork to get down the byline, delivering a perfectly weighted cross for Kim to flash a volley narrowly over the bar.


Appeals for an Albirex handball from a Sailors freekick were swiftly waved away by the referee before defender Iqram Rifqi’s cross was headed straight into the palms of Koga by Kim again.

PHOTO: AIA SINGAPORE PREMIER LEAGUE

False Dawn for the White Swans


The White Swans managed to break the Sailors’ onslaught momentarily in the 58th minute. Substitute Yoshiki Matsuura beat the offside trap to send a low cut-back towards Lee, whose first-timed close-range effort was smartly parried by custodian Hassan Sunny.


Albirex continued to threaten with two dangerous crosses in quick succession from left-back Daichi Omori, somehow evading every orange shirt in the penalty box on both occasions.


A scathing challenge from Kim on defender Keito Hariya in the 74th minute resulted in the first and only yellow card of the game.


Sailors manager Kim Do Hoon played his trump card thereafter, replacing midfielder Adam Swandi with midfield maestro Diego Lopes.


The $3 million Brazilian signing turned out to be the provider for Kim’s winning goal in the 86th minute.

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Acrobatic Winner


The Korean forward connected perfectly with Lopes’ dinked cross, leaping into the air to set up a delightful scissor-kick volley which sent the home fans into raptures.


That acrobatic finish was enough for eventual man-of-the-match Kim to have the last laugh over Lee, as the Sailors saw out the remaining minutes to be crowned winners of the Shield.


In an event that likely served as a precursor for the 2022 SPL season, fans can certainly expect more to come from the duo in what could potentially be a closely contested Golden Boot battle.


Speaking after the match, coach Kim said, “I’m proud of the boys for giving it their all for the 90 minutes. We know we have never beaten Albirex in a game before and I’m proud of the aggressiveness and confidence the players put in. I hope this will give us a good start to the league next week.”

Kim Sings Praises of Sailors Youth


When quizzed on the adjustment to the U-23 ruling this season, coach Kim was lavish in praise for his young players.


“The young boys in the team have been training very hard. It’s healthy competition. We will try our best to help them develop. A lot of my boys are very disciplined and humble. If they continue training hard, they will become important players for the future of Singapore football,” he added.


Albirex coach Yoshinaga marked his return to Singapore with a rare defeat, but he was happy with the effort shown from his players.


“I think everyone is able to challenge themselves further after this game. We are working with a new group of players and I’m sure they will improve over the course of the season,” he said.


Albirex are four-time SPL champions, but barely lost last season’s league title to the Sailors by a margin of two points. They will begin their 2022 campaign with the league’s season opener against Tanjong Pagar United on 25th February.


The Sailors will launch their title defence at home to Hougang United next Sunday, on 27th February at the Jalan Besar Stadium.


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