|FROM PASIR GUDANG, JOHOR
By Khalis Rifhan
Albirex Niigata (S) hung on to a solitary goal scored by Kazuki Sakamoto in the sixth minute to secure all three points against Malaysian side, Harimau Muda B at the Pasir Gudang stadium in Johor on Friday afternoon.
The home side started the game looking full of confidence as Azzizan Nordin and Iskandar Hanapiah tried their luck from distance, but the effort did not trouble Albirex goalkeeper Hiroaki Hara.
It took the visitors awhile before they got their rhythm together and opened the scoring with their first attack.
Captain Shuhei Hotta started the play in the middle of the field before sending it to Hiroki Morisaki who sliced the home defence with his sublime one-touch pass to Kazuki Sakamoto at the edge of the box.
With only the goalkeeper to beat, Sakamoto made no mistake as he placed the ball to the bottom corner to send the handful of travelling fans wild.
Despite the early setback, the young Tigers did not let the goal affect their level of confidence as they went on the search of the equalising goal.
Maxius Musa could have leveled things seven minutes later but his thunderous strike inside the penalty box was palmed away by Hara for a corner kick.
After the restart, Albirex almost took the lead after Sakamoto beautifully laid the ball to the left flank for Itsuki Yamada and the latter set-up Kento Nagasaki in the box.
But miraculously, the 23-year-old midfielder shot wide from inside the six-yard-box, much to the dismay of coach Kocihi Sugiyama on the bench.
Albirex players began to look tired midwaythrough the second-half and the hosts took advantage of it as they created several chances in the last 15 minutes of the game but they were denied by the heroics of Hara in goal as well as the framework.
A cornerkick for Harimau Muda caused confusion in the penalty box and Akmal Ishak nearly got to the end of the ball a yard out from goal. But luck was on the visitors'side as the ball hit the post and rebounded into the hands of the White Swans custodian.
Harimau Muda will next travel to Woodlands stadium to take on the Rams on February 26 while Albirex will be up against Home United at the Jalan Besar stadium on March 1.