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SPL 2022: Champions Albirex fall 3-5 to resilient Tampines

Brace from Boris Kopitovic brings Tampines forward’s tally to 33 goals for the season, one ahead of Albirex’s Kodai Tanaka in the league’s Top Scorer race

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Singapore, 15 October 2022 - Plagued by defensive errors, Champions-elect Albirex Niigata (S) fell to a 3-5 away defeat to third-placed Tampines Rovers in the AIA Singapore Premier League on Saturday evening despite putting up an impressive attacking performance.


Albirex were crowned champions for a fifth time last weekend following a 4-2 victory over title rivals Lion City Sailors, while Tampines secured third place in the league prior to this match.


More match photos from SPL2022: Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (S) available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


The win was Tampines’ first league victory over Albirex in their last seven attempts, while the White Swans fell to their first defeat since July.


Speaking after the game, coach Gavin Lee said: “Albirex are the team we haven’t beaten this season. That was the main objective for us today (winning) after securing third spot. We want to go into the Singapore Cup strong.”

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Tampines forward Boris Kopitovic netted a brace to move one goal ahead of Albirex’s Kodai Tanaka, who scored Albirex’s second goal, in the neck-and-neck race for the league’s Top Scorer award.


The Montenegrin striker has now scored 33 league goals for the season, ahead of Tanaka who has notched 32 goals, in just 27 league matches.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Tampines made just one alteration to their line-up, with Ong Yu-En replacing Firdaus Kasman in midfield. Head coach Gavin Lee deployed a fluid narrow midfield set-up with a host of central midfielders including Kyoga Nakamura and Syed Firdaus Hassan, with strikers Taufik Suparno and Boris Kopitovic upfront.


Champions-elect Albirex made two changes with midfielders Mahiro Takahashi and Zamani Zamri coming in for Kan Kobayashi and Tadanari Lee. Kazuaki Yoshinaga’s men set-up in a 3-4-3 system on the ball but dropped back into a 4-4-2 when defending.


More match photos from SPL2022: Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (S) available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Within the opening 41 seconds, Albirex took the lead. A cross-field ball from right-back Masaya Idetsu was flicked on by Kodai Tanaka, allowing Singaporean forward Ilhan Fandi to slot past Tampines goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari.


Tampines needed just ten minutes to respond. Boris Kopitovic notched his 32nd goal of the season – momentarily surpassing Kodai Tanaka as the league’s Top Scorer – with an acrobatic overhead kick after Albirex failed to deal with Yasir Hanapi’s corner.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Thereafter, Albirex recalibrated and largely controlled proceedings for the remainder of the first half. The away side had the ball in the back of the net just before the half hour mark, but Ilhan Fandi’s header was chalked off for an earlier offside.


Against the run of play, Tampines stole ahead for the first time just before the half-time whistle. An inch perfect, defence-splitting pass from Ong Yu En found the stride of Taufik Suparno, who made no mistake one-on-one with Albirex goalkeeper Takahiro Koga.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Albirex started the second half where they left-off, with relentless pressure and dominance when on the ball.


Their attacking impetus paid off in the 54th minute, after a series of passes found Ilhan Fandi on the edge of the six-yard box. The 19-year-old striker turned provider with a deft backheel for strike-partner Kodai Tanaka to sweep home his 32nd goal of the season and level the scores.


More match photos from SPL2022: Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (S) available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Tampines gradually grew back into the game and eventually retook the lead in the 66th minute. Boris Kopitovic used his 1.89m-tall frame to muscle off surrounding defenders, before setting up captain Yasir Hanapi for a straightforward tap-in.


Two minutes later, the Montenegrin forward doubled the Stags’ advantage. A throw-in from deep in Tampines’ half was controlled by Kopitovic, who shrugged off Albirex defender Keito Hariya and swivelled past the 19-year-old to fire into the bottom corner of the net. It was his 33rd goal of the season, now one clear of Kodai Tanaka in the league’s Top Scorer race.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Albirex upped their tempo as substitute Nicky Melvin Singh forced goalkeeper Syazwan Buhari into a smart save in the 78th minute.


The White Swans pulled a goal back six minutes later, after Tanaka’s header from a corner was turned into his own net by Tampines defender Ryaan Sanizal.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Tampines would wrap up the win in the 88th minute. Kyoga Nakumura powered a 30-yard drive into the bottom corner after picking up a short corner-kick from teammate Yasir Hanapi.


Coach Gavin Lee gave some insight into a new-look narrow midfield system that has yielded positive results in recent games.


More match photos from SPL2022: Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (S) available in our photo gallery here.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


“We’re trying to find the best complement for the team based on the players’ availability. We’ve got many good midfielders and it’s about getting them close to each other to play off each other and to have constant support,” he said.


“We have been hurt quite a bit transition-wise so having players close to each other helps us defend against those moments,” coach Gavin Lee added.

PHOTO: FAIZAL BASIR, SPORTPLUS.SG


Head coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga praised Tampines for their display following his side’s defeat.


With the aid of a translator, the Japanese coach said: “The players are doing their best, but our opponents today were strong as well. We will prepare well for next week’s game against Geylang because we want to finish the season strong.”


More match photos from SPL2022: Tampines Rovers vs Albirex Niigata (S) available in our photo gallery here.


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