S.League | Toa Payoh Stadium | Sat 27 Feb | 7.30pm
BALESTIER KHALSA FORM
- 01/11/15 Hougang United 1-1 Balestier Khalsa
- 21/11/15 Brunei DPMM 4-0 Balestier Khalsa
- 01/02/16 Balestier Khalsa 1-3 Ceres FC
- 14/02/16 Garena Young Lions 1-0 Balestier Khalsa
- 23/02/16 New Radiant 2-2 Balestier Khalsa
Albirex Niigata (S) form
- 27/11/15 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 Home United
- 30/01/16 Tampines Rovers 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S)
- 03/02/16 Albirex Niigata (S) 2-1 Ceres FC
- 13/02/16 Albirex Niigata (S) 3-2 Brunei DPMM
- 20/02/16 Garena Young lions 0-5 Albirex Niigata (S)
Balestier Khalsa’s chance to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season
Albirex Niigata (S) have begun the season with a bang after two huge victories and are looking like serious title contenders.
Their recent exploits in front of goal is a huge surprise, considering that the White Swans struggled for goals last year and only averaged one goal per game in the league.
Had Albirex been less wasteful in front last season, the League Cup and Singapore Cup holders would probably have made a clean sweep of the domestic trophies available.
Balestier Khalsa have endured a shaky start to the season on the other hand. After posing as serious title challengers last year, the Tigers were gunning for a similar challenge in the league this season.
But Balestier flattered to deceive as they had the worst possible start by going down 1-0 to Young Lions – a squad made up of mainly under-21 Singapore players.
Their next game did not do much to boost their morale too, as the Tigers conceded a last-minute goal in the Maldives to draw 2-2 with New Radiant in the AFC Cup.
The Tigers have not been helped by injuries to the squad either, with foreign players Robert Pericic and Emir Lotinac among the casualties. Their absence have been keenly felt by Balestier and coach Marko Kraljevic is surely keeping his fingers crossed that they return to action soon.
However, it is still too early to write off the Tigers, and Balestier have plenty of time to turn things around.
For Balestier, Robert Pericic and Emir Lotinac look set to miss out yet again, while Ho Wai Loon is still ineligible to play in the S.League.
The Tigers’ midweek game against New Radiant also claimed several victims, with Syafiq Zainal and Fadhil Noh receiving knocks. Balestier will be hoping these two recover in time to feature on Saturday.
The White Swans have not reported any injuries, and should have a full squad available for selection.
Key Battle: Zaiful Nizam vs Atsushi Kawata
Given Albirex’s recent form, the key battle would be between Albirex’s forward Atsushi Kawata and Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam.
While Albirex have plenty of danger men, it appears Kawata would be the most dangerous of the lot after he scored four goals in his last outing. In that game alone, he has already scored almost half of his total tally (11) last year.
But the Tigers’ captain Zaiful should prove to be his match, after all, he is Singapore’s current number three. Zaiful has yet to keep a clean sheet this season and he should be desperate to get one against Albirex.
PAST FIVE MEETINGS
- 08/06/14 Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Albirex Niigata (S)
- 06/10/14 Balestier Khalsa 2-0 Albirex Niigata (S)
- 20/03/15 Balestier Khalsa 0-1 Albirex Niigata (S)
- 23/07/15 Albirex Niigata (S) 0-1 Balestier Khalsa
- 16/10/15 Balestier Khalsa 1-0 Albirex Niigata (S)
It seems that although Albirex have had a change of coach with Naoki Naruo taking over from Tatsuyuki Okuyama, the style of play remains largely unchanged. The White Swans still prefer to play with the ball at their feet and always look to control possession.
By contrast, Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic prefers a more direct approach. They will still look to play down the flanks and play in a cross hoping to find one of their strikers lurking inside the box.
Facts and Figures
Balestier and Albirex played each other six times in the 2015 season following their meetings in the League Cup and Singapore Cup. The White Swans won four times of those encounters while Balestier claimed victory twice.
Balestier were gunning for a third place finish in 2015, only to lose their game and see Albirex leapfrog them.
The last time both sides played out a draw was back in 2014.
A 1-0 win to Albirex. The White Swans will be in for a tough test but Balestier’s depleted squad might be too tired after their midweek exertions in the AFC Cup.
Main photo: Balestier Khalsa