It was just one clean swing of his right boot, but in that technique, timing, and temerity, Kim Shin-wook has started to demonstrate why he is worth all the hype surrounding his high-profile arrival at the Lion City Sailors.
The score was locked at 1-1 and with just three minutes left on the clock, the 2022 AIA Community Shield between the Sailors and Albirex Niigata (S) on 19 February looked poised for a penalty shootout.
But “Wookie” was having none of that.
As the ball hung in the Jalan Besar air after an excellent Diego Lopes cross, the South Korean – who had scored over 100 goals in K League 1 – spotted the opportunity and moved into position, a predator poised to strike. He connected with a sweet acrobatic volley with an athleticism not often associated with a 1.98m giant, and sent the ball flying past Takahiro Koga to make it 2-1 and win the Sailors the Shield – the club’s second trophy after being crowned SPL champions last October.
It was an incredible strike which probably will be replayed over and over again in the season ahead – a strike that clearly signalled Wookie’s arrival in the Singapore Premier League (SPL).
Earlier that evening, Shin-wook had already introduced himself to the local public by showcasing his trademark aerial prowess to get in between the Albirex centre-backs and nod home Tajeli Salamat’s teasing right-wing cross for the equaliser.
It was all in an evening’s work for the 33-year-old, his clinical brace helping to overturn an early deficit against the White Swans, who had drawn first blood through Tadanari Lee’s penalty conversion.
Shin-wook was undoubtedly the star of the show, but he was happy to stay out of the limelight in the ensuing trophy celebrations as he stood with a face of calmness in the back row. As the Sailors’ players and staff lifted the Shield, he clapped briefly for a few seconds before exiting the podium first to do some stretching on his own.
There was a whiff of the dedication that fuels Shin-wook’s winning mentality – one that perhaps showed that the two-time Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League (ACL) winner has his eye set to achieve even more with the Sailors.
When asked about how he rated his performance, he laughed as he said: “I felt that the team had one man less in the first half because I didn’t do too well. In the second half, it was better, but I cannot do it alone of course. I need my teammates to give me good balls and I’m happy I’m at the end of two brilliant assists.
“I would give myself a 7/10.”
On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, the Sailors did not have it all their way in the season’s curtain-raiser. Albirex – back under two-time league winner Kazuaki Yoshinaga – proved to be a real handful with their swift and neat passing.
Lee made the most of a soft foul from Shahdan Sulaiman in the penalty area to put the White Swans ahead from the spot on 14 minutes, before centre-back Keito Hariya saw his header denied by the woodwork six minutes later.
Shin-wook’s equaliser four minutes before half-time altered the momentum of the game as the Sailors began to play with more verve and intensity in the second half.
Debutant Pedro Henrique showed his class at the heart of defence alongside new skipper Hariss Harun, with the former Vitoria Guimaraes captain showing poise on the ball and aggression in winning it back to limit the Albirex attackers.
Behind him was the evergreen Hassan Sunny who pulled off two superb saves – one of those a superb reaction save to deny Lee from point-blank range – to keep the score level.
Coach Kim Do-hoon drew on the strength of his bench, with M. Anumanthan coming on at half-time to inject steel in midfield on his Sailors bow, before calling upon Hafiz Nor and Diego for more attacking impetus in the final stages of the game.
In the end, it was the latter two who combined to great effect down the right leading up to Shin-wook’s brilliant late winner as the Sailors began a big 2022 season on a positive note – a first win over Albirex in six competitive meetings and another piece of silverware for the trophy cabinet.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, Kim expressed his pleasure of seeing his Sailors turn the tide to win a game in which they were admittedly not at their fluent best.
“Football is a 90-minute game, not 45. Our transitions – both defensive and offensive – didn’t quite work for us in the first half,” said the 51-year-old. “Of course there was some pressure in the dressing room coming into this important match against a strong opponent.
“And what impressed me was the boys’ will and spirit to give everything on the pitch and bring the Shield back home. If we can keep up the quality football and pressing that we showed in the second half, I believe they can bring many more good matches for the fans to enjoy.
“I’m happy we’ve finally managed to beat Albirex and this will help to give us a good start to the league.”
The Sailors will begin their SPL defence with a home match against last season’s second runners-up Hougang United next Sunday (27 Feb).