Football: Tight defence helps unfancied Balestier stun Kitchee

Balestier Khalsa forward Zulkiffli Hassim celebrates his winning goal against Hong Kong side Kitchee with team-mate Gary Loo.
Balestier Khalsa forward Zulkiffli Hassim celebrates his winning goal against Hong Kong side Kitchee with team-mate Gary Loo.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

AFC CUP

Balestier Khalsa 1 Kitchee 0

The odds were heavily stacked against Balestier Khalsa last night, as they faced reigning Hong Kong Premier League champions Kitchee in their AFC Cup Group F tie at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

The Tigers, struggling in last place in the S-League, were without their injured foreign striker Robert Pericic. Meanwhile, Kitchee had former Atletico Madrid player Rufino del Burgo in their ranks.

Yet the hosts managed to pull off a 1-0 victory in front of 1,048 fans to stay unbeaten so far in their AFC Cup campaign.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic was pleased that his counter-attacking strategy had paid off and said after the game: "This was what we were expecting from Kitchee - to keep possession. If we played like them, we would have lost.

"They were missing two foreigners, but we were also missing key players. It is all down to hard work; we played compact and defended very well."

The two sides had met in the same stage of the tournament last season. Kitchee won both matches by an aggregate score of 5-1.

Last night, the visitors dominated possession from the start and nearly took the lead in the 26th minute, when Christian Kwesi was put through by defender Tong Kin Man and fired just wide of the far post.

However, it was the Tigers who broke the deadlock five minutes later, when Fadhil Noh sent in a cross from the right flank for Zulkiffli Hassim to fire home from close range.

Croatian striker Miroslav Kristic then had a glorious opportunity to put Balestier 2-0 up in the 39th minute when he was brought down by Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng in the penalty box.

However, his spot kick was saved by Wang.

Kitchee went desperately in search of the equaliser late on but Balestier's defence, well-marshalled by centre-back Emir Lotinac, who passed a late fitness test to play, managed to hold on for a confidence-boosting victory as the Tigers moved to the top of Group F on four points.

Kitchee interim coach Alex Chu, who only took over last weekend after Spanish coach Abraham Garcia resigned, rued his side's lack of ruthlessness in front of goal.

He said: "We had many chances to score but the home team played very defensive and made it difficult for us. Maybe the players were tired due to the difference in temperature and humidity over here but every player tried their best."

In Group F's other game, Filipino outfit Kaya FC beat New Radiant of Maldives 1-0 in Manila.

The Tigers will next travel to Manila to face Kaya in their third AFC Cup group game on March 15 while Kitchee will entertain New Radiant at home on the same day.

Singapore's other representative in the AFC Cup, Tampines Rovers, beat Malaysian Super League side Selangor 1-0 at Selayang Stadium in their Group E tie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2016, with the headline 'Tight defence helps unfancied Tigers stun Kitchee'. Print Edition | Subscribe