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The New Paper
Thursday, Feb 16, 2017

Sports

No chance of a Leicester-style collapse

The New Paper | Sazali Abdul Aziz | Thursday, Feb 16, 2017

Albirex Niigata skipper Shuto Inaba (second from left, in orange) is confident of another successful season for the White Swans.

Photo: The New Paper

New head coach, new players, new kit, but same target - win everything on offer.

S.League champions Albirex Niigata are determined to continue where they left off last seasons as they unveiled their 2017 squad and new kit to invited guests and sponsors at a season kick-off party at Le Danz Ballroom at Queen Street last night.

Under the guidance of Naoki Naruo, the White Swans swept an unprecedented quadruple last season - winning the Great Eastern Community Shield, The New Paper League Cup, the RHB Singapore Cup, and the S.League.

After bagging the S.League's Coach of the Year award, Naruo has since returned to Japan and former Shimizu S-Pulse and Ventforet Kofu coach Kazuaki Yoshinaga has taken over.

The 48-year-old Yoshinaga told The New Paper last month the club "cannot go backwards", and therefore have to aim to retain all four titles.

Yesterday, he said hunger is a big reason his new-look side - 17 in his 23-man squad are new to the S.League - would not suffer second-season syndrome like English Premier League champions Leicester City, who are mired in a relegation battle less than a year after their remarkable triumph.

"We have a lot of new players and they have to learn again how to win," said Yoshinaga.

"So I think there will be no problem motivating them."

His newly appointed skipper Shuto Inaba, one of just six players remaining from last season's squad, also brushed aside any fears the White Swans would go the way of the Foxes.

"We are not Leicester City!" he responded, with a hearty laugh. "We are Albirex Niigata. No problem. It won't happen."

Albirex look ready for the season's kick-off next Sunday, when they play Tampines Rovers in the Great Eastern Community Shield at the National Stadium.

They have won all five of their pre-season friendly matches without conceding a goal.

Club chairman Daisuke Korenaga believes it is his squad's improved firepower which will help them to another successful season.

Albirex's 50 goals made them joint-top scorers in the S.League last term, along with runners up Tampines and fourth-placed Home United, but Korenaga said: "I believe our team this year are faster and more attacking-minded.

"I'm confident of our team, but I also know other clubs have strengthened, and it will not be an easy season for us."

Albirex have participated in the S.League since 2004, but won their first trophy only seven years later, when they lifted the League Cup in 2011.

Since then, they have won a League Cup and Singapore Cup double for two consecutive years in 2015 and 2016, adding their first S.League title to the list of accomplishments last year.

msazali@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on February 16, 2017.
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