Last week was the perfect week for fans of Albirex Niigata, as the club’s two teams managed to clinch glory only one day apart from each other. Last Friday, Albirex Niigata Singapore won the 2022 Singapore Premier League after they had defeated fellow title challengers Lion City Sailors 4-2, while on the following Saturday Albirex Niigata clinched promotion from this season’s J.League 2 after beating Vegalta Sendai 3-0 at the Denka Big Swan Stadium.
Both Albirex Niigata (S) and LCS were locked in a tussle for this season’s Singapore Premier League title and their battle culminated in a do-or-die winner-takes-all tie last Friday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Determined to win their fifth Singaporean league title in six years, Albirex (S) opened proceedings in the fifth minute after Ilhan Fandi, brother of BG Pathum United duo Irfan and Ikhsan, scored a brilliant volley past LCS goalie Hassan Sunny.
Former Ulsan Hyundai striker Kim Shin-wook equalized for LCS in the 16th minute, however SPL top-scorer Kodai Tanaka added more to his season tally in the 37th minute to regain Albirex (S)’s lead.
Tanaka then went on a rampage in the second half, making it 3-1 Albirex (S) in the 77th minute before completing his hat-trick in the fourth minute of injury time to round off a resounding win. The 22-year old attacker’s goals sandwiched a Gabriel Quak penalty in the 83rd minute, which amounted to nothing more than mere consolation for LCS, who failed to defend the SPL title that they’ve won last season.
As if the mood within the Albirex camp couldn’t get any better, the club’s main squad in the J2 managed to follow in the footsteps of their Singaporean brothers with a triumph of their own, as their 3-0 demolition of Vegalta on the following Saturday ensured that Albirex would end their 5-year exile in the J.League 2 and return to the J.League 1 for the 2023 season.
Having led the J2 for a good chunk of the 2022 season, Albirex knew that a home win against a Vegalta side who were relegated to the J2 last season would wrap up promotion back into the promised land.
After a goalless first half, Albirex managed to open the scoring in the 64th minute through Ryotaro Ito, with the former Oita Trinita man doubling the hosts’ advantage in the 77th minute.
Ex-Vegalta man Alexandre Guedes then sealed Albirex’s promotion back to the J1 with a goal against his former club in the fourth minute of injury time.
The resounding 3-0 win meant that Albirex are now nine points above 3rd placed Fagiano Okayama with only two more games to go in the season, ensuring that Rikizo Matsuhashi’s men would receive one of the two automatic promotion tickets out of the J2 this season. 2nd placed Yokohama FC’s 3-2 loss at home at the hands of promotion-chasing Oita also meant that Albirex are four points above their rivals from Kanagawa Prefecture, meaning that an Albirex win against Pratama Arhan’s Tokyo Verdy and a Yokohama FC defeat at the hands of Zwigen Kanazawa would clinch Albirex this season’s J2 title.