SINGAPORE – The Lion City Sailors became the first Singaporean football club to win the Singapore Premier League (SPL) since 2014, following a 4-1 victory over Balestier Khalsa at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday (October 10). Niigata (Singapore) on the last day of the season.
For six seasons after Warriors FC won the league in 2014, the SPL title has been won by non-Singaporean clubs – DPMM FC of Brunei (2015, 2019) and Japan’s Albirex Niigata (2016 to 2018, 2020) – which made fans wonder if either of the local clubs could ever match the excellence of both teams and surpass them to win the championship again.
The streak was ultimately cut short by the Sailors, who became Singapore’s first privatized football club when billionaire Forrest Li bought the shares to transform former Home United in 2020.
Li went on to fund a formidable squad which included national team mainstays such as Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Shahdan Sulaiman and national captain Hariss Harun.
With top striker Stipe Plazibat and two Brazilian signings Jorge Fellipe and Diego Lopes – who became SPL’s most expensive player when the Sailors signed him for $ 3 million this season – the Sailors have made dramatic improvements over the course of each of their two seasons to become legitimate Title contenders.
Dramatic end of a tight title race
The Sailors and Albirex both started the final day’s level with 45 points, with the Sailors having a better goal difference. If both teams win the last matches, Albirex would have to score five more goals than the Sailors to overtake them.
Facing Tanjong Pagar United at Jurong East Stadium, Albirex took a 4-1 halftime lead, forward Kiyoshiro Tsuboi scoring all four goals to make up for Anaqi Ismit’s Jaguars debut.
Meanwhile, the Sailors quickly took the lead thanks to newly naturalized Singaporean midfielder Song Ui-yong, but Balestier equalized thanks to Aidil Johari after 31 minutes, dramatically increasing the tension at Jalan Besar Stadium.
However, Quak mitigated those worrying moments by restoring the sailors’ lead in the 41st minute. And Lopes delighted his fans when he rushed in the 78th minute to fly home acrobatically after a superb cross from Faris.
By this point, Albirex had collapsed dramatically as Tanjong Pagar continued to narrow his lead. And when Reo Nishiguchi scored an 86th-minute goal for the Jaguars to make it 4-4, the sailors were finally able to relax and enjoy their stroll to victory.
After a roller coaster season in which they changed head coach, as Australia’s Aurelio Vidmar left mid-season to join Thailand’s BG Pathum United squad, and also suffered a debilitating injuries, the sweet taste of league success was ultimately enjoyed by sailors.
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