Football: Home wins in AFC a must for Tigers

Croat Robert Pericic scored nine goals in the S-League last season but while his absence through injury will be missed, the team are confident.
Croat Robert Pericic scored nine goals in the S-League last season but while his absence through injury will be missed, the team are confident.TNP FILE PHOTO

Balestier learn from last year's experience and know they have it in them to progress

They lost five out of six games in their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup debut last year.

But Balestier Khalsa have learnt from the pain of those defeats and will be using the experience of competing in Asia's second-tier club tournament to their benefit in this year's campaign.

Ahead of their first home game against Hong Kong side Kitchee at Jalan Besar tonight, the Tigers' coach Marko Kraljevic said: "The first year, everything was new for us. The travelling... the competition at a higher level against the teams whom we had never played before.

"But now, we know better what to expect. We know how strong our opponents are and we are more mentally prepared to face them.

"We are not the best team in the S-League, but (joining) the AFC Cup has raised the bar for our players and given us a lot of confidence."

The S-League team showed encouraging signs at the start of their AFC Cup campaign two weeks ago, coming agonisingly close to a victory in their first Group F match against Maldives team New Radiant.

Following that 2-2 away draw when they conceded a stoppage-time equaliser, Kraljevic lamented that his players were too wasteful in front of goal.

He said: "We did a good job in attacking, but we just need to be more composed in our finishing. We have practised and worked on that."

The Croat also knows that winning the home matches (tonight, April 12 and 26) will boost their chances of advancing to the round of 16 for the first time.

He said: "If we want to improve on last year, this is our chance. A draw is not going to be enough. We need to win our home games to stand a good chance to progress (to the next round)."

But the Singaporean side have been weakened as they will be missing two of their foreign imports, Emir Lotinac and Robert Pericic, owing to injury.

Their absence will make it much harder but the Tigers insisted that a victory against Kitchee is not implausible. Said defender Fadli Kamis, 23: "We are confident of progressing. Our draw against New Radiant was a two-point loss for us and it showed (us) that we can beat any team. We have to play at the same (level) against Kitchee."

The home side could perhaps be aided by their opponents' fatigue. Kitchee's coach Alex Chu admitted that his players are feeling the strain of having to play their fourth game in 10 days.

Said Chu, who took over coaching duties at the club only last Saturday: "We need to be relaxed for the game. We want to play clever and safe, preserve our energy and wait for the right time to attack."

BALESTIER V KITCHEE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2016, with the headline 'Home wins a must for Tigers'. Print Edition | Subscribe