Tampines Rovers felled at home by five-star Albirex in Singapore Cup
Albirex Niigata (S) kicked off their Singapore Cup defence in ruthless fashion on Thursday evening when they recorded a 5-1 win over Tampines Rovers in the first leg of their quarterfinal at Our Tampines Hub.
In a replay of last October's final, the Japanese outfit were merciless to put themselves them in a commanding position ahead of Sunday's return encounter.
A brace from playmaker Kento Nagasaki, along with further strikes by Rui Kumada, Shoma Kondo and Shoichiro Sakamoto, were enough to hand the defending champions a comfortable victory.
Shahdan Sulaiman did pull one back for the Stags in the final minute, but Jurgen Raab's charges face an almost impossible task to progress.
Having already won the Charity Shield and League Cup, and holding a nine-point lead at the top of the S.League, it looks like it will take some stopping to prevent the White Swans from once again winning a quadruple of trophies.
Yet, the night started off with plenty of promise for Tampines, who came into the clash on the back of a 2-0 league triumph over Brunei DPMM FC. They were looking to make it two wins in a row since moving back to Our Tampines Hub.
Nonetheless, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock four minutes before the half-hour mark. Nagasaki was picked out on the edge of the box by Hiroyoshi Kamata and proceeded to curl an effort past Izwan Mahbud.
Six minutes later, Nagasaki turned provider when his corner found Kumada, who did well to climb highest, sending his header into the back of the net. A third goal arrived in the 59th minute. It was Nagasaki who was once again pivotal, beating the offside trap to race through and finish into the bottom corner.
It has not been their style under Kazuaki Yoshinaga this season for Albirex to take their foot off the pedal.
With seven minutes remaining, substitute Kondo -- he had only been on the field for two minutes -- sent a diving header past Izwan. And a fifth goal arrived a minute later when Sakamoto pounced on a defensive error to finish calmly.
There was something for Tampines to cheer about right at the death when Khairul Amri was brought down inside the area, paving the way for Shahdan to convert from the penalty spot.
But it already looks like little more than a mere consolation, barring a miraculous comeback at Jurong East Stadium in three days' time.
Tampines Rovers: Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Fahrudin Mustafic, Daniel Bennett, Irwan Shah, Son Yong-chan, Shahdan Sulaiman, Shakir Hamzah, Ryutaro Megumi (Jamil Ali 89'), Hafiz Abu Sujad, Fazrul Nawaz (Ivan Dzoni 80')
Albirex Niigata (S): Yosuke Nozawa, Rui Kumada, Yasutaka Yanagi, Takuya Akiyama, Naofumi Tanaka, Shuto Inaba, Kento Nagasaki (Kenya Kodama 87'), Hiroyoshi Kamata, Ryota Nakai (Shoma Kondo 81'), Ryuya Motoda (Kouki Sato 78'), Shoichiro Sakamoto
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.