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Bruno Castanheira (left) torments the Tampines defence. He scored Albirex's third goal.

White Swans brush aside Stags to keep second place hopes alive

Bruno Castanheira (left) torments the Tampines defence. He scored Albirex's third goal.

Stanford Sng

The Japanese side convincingly won 3-1 as they kept within touching distance of the runners-up spot, as the champions slumped to their second defeat in three matches

Tampines Rovers’ championship hangover continued as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat against Albirex Niigata on Friday night at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The Stags have yet to win a game since they were crowned champions and this was their second loss in three games. Albirex, on the other hand, will go into the final game of the season against Home United still with a chance of securing second spot.

They were convincing winners against the champions with Itsuki Yamada, Kazuki Sakamoto and Bruno Castenheira all getting on the score sheet, while substitute Jamil Ali scored a consolation goal for Tampines near the end.

The White Swans needed a victory to keep up the chase for second spot and they started the game with more intent as they dominated the early exchanges.

Nineteen-year-old Kazuya Fukuzaki created the first opportunity of the match, sending his curling strike just wide of the goal.

With Aleksandar Duric starting the game on the bench, Khairul Amri looked the most dangerous player for the Stags. His shot from distance in the 13th minute brought about an athletic save from 35-year-old goalkeeper Hiroaki Hara, who palmed the ball on to the post and out for a corner.

However, Albirex took a deserved lead in the 16th minute when Sakamoto went past his marker and played the ball to Yamada, who coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net.

Albirex almost doubled their lead soon after as Yamada’s cross from the left reached Sakamoto, but Andre Martins saved his header from point-blank range.

Amri then brought out another good save from Hara with a thunderous shot from the edge of the penalty box, the goalkeeper palming the ball over the crossbar.

Albirex then doubled their lead in their next attack after an excellent one-two in the build-up play between Sakamoto and Castanheira in the 36th minute.

After Sakamoto had passed the ball to Castanheira, the half-Braziilian winger played an excellent return pass over the Tampines defence back to him and the forward placed the ball beyond Martins’s reach.

Tampines started on the front foot at the start of the second half as they tried to find a way back into the game, but they seemed toothless in front of goal despite the introduction of Duric.

It was Albirex who kept carving out the better opportunities as Takeshi Nagasawa went close when his free-kick hit the post.

The Japanese side finally got their deserved third goal on the hour mark when an unmarked Castanheira placed the ball in the net after Martins parried an effort straight into his path.

Tampines’ defense were in sixes and sevens at this point as Sakamoto had three very good chances to extend Albirex’s lead, but Martins was equal to them.

Still, the league’s top scorers showed how they can still score at will when they nabbed a consolation goal in the 85th minute as Duric held off three players and laid the ball to Jamil Ali, who beat Hara at his near post.

Tampines rallied and tried to mount a comeback but it was too little, too late as Albirex comfortably saw out the game.