Balestier Khalsa vs Kitchee SC: Arduous task ahead for unfancied Tigers

AFC Cup | Jalan Besar Stadium | Tues 8 Mar | 7.30pm  

Billed as

David vs Goliath.  

The lowdown

After being denied all three points by a last-gasp equaliser against New Radiant in Maldives in their opening Group F clash, Singapore representatives Balestier Khalsa will look to do better in their second 2016 AFC Cup match.

So far it has been an uneventful start for the Tigers back in the domestic S.League.

A 1-0 loss against local development side Garena Young Lions was not the way they wanted to start off the season, but Marko Kraljevic’s side have since bounced back well with two draws against title aspirants Albirex Niigata (S) and Geylang International.

It has been not easy playing with just one foreigner in the form of Miroslav Kristic (Robert Pericic and Emir Lotinac are out through injuries), so credit has to go to them for remaining as a solid unit against opponents of higher quality.

Balestier Khalsa Form

  • Geylang International 0-0 Balestier (S.League)
  • Balestier 1-1 Albirex (S.League)
  • New Radiant SC 2-2 Balestier (S.League)
  • Garena Young Lions 1-0 Balestier (S.League)
  • Balestier 1-3 Ceres La Salle (Friendly)

 

Kitchee SC Form

  • Yuen Long 0-1 Kitchee (HKPL)
  • Kitchee 2-0 Southern District (HKPL)
  • Kitchee 2-1 Rangers (HKPL)
  • Kitchee 1-0 Kaya (AFC Cup)
  • Southern District 1-1 Kitchee (HKPL)

This particular trait will put them in good stead as they host Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC on Tuesday night.

Dubbed as ‘Hong Kong’s Barca’ for their effervescent attacking style of play, they ooze quality all over the pitch with five Hong Kong national team players in their fold.

These five are goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng, right back and captain Lo Kwan Yee, midfielders Lam Ka Wai and Sandro, as well as Nigerian-born striker Alex Akande.

Apart from that, they also have a strong Spanish flavour with five players coming from the nation which won consecutive major championships from 2008 to 2012.

That said, not everything is rosy for them at the moment as they are struggling to retain the Hong Kong Premier League title.

With just three matches to go, they are second in the standings with 28 points – one behind leaders Eastern, who still have two games in hand.

To compound matters, there is also a change of head coach with the unsettled Abraham Garcia parting ways with the club after just eight months in charge.

Director of football Alex Chu has since taken over on an interim basis.

Will those factors be enough to distract the visitors? We shall wait and see.

Team News

Balestier will continue to miss out on the services of Croatian forward Pericic and left-back Ho Wai Loon through injury, while Serbian defender Lotinac face a late fitness test to play.

As for Kitchee, Spanish defender Fernando Recio and fellow countryman Jordi Tarres did not travel due to injuries.

Key Battle: Sheikh Abdul Hadi vs Rufino Segovia del Burgo

Hadi has been in good form at the back for Balestier. Photo: S.League

Hadi has enjoyed a relatively good start to his Balestier career, after being a starter in all the Tigers’ games so far and leading the team well at the heart of defence.

The former Singapore Under-23 player will need to pull out all the stops when he faces off against former Atletico Madrid youth player Rufino.

Despite arriving only in mid-January, the 31-year-old forward has already hit three goals in his first two games for Kitchee, including a spot-kick that helped them to a 1-0 home win against Philippine’s Kaya in their opening Group F game.

The Coaches

Marko Kraljevic has done wonders with a tight budget since being appointed Balestier coach in 2014, inspiring them to a Singapore Cup triumph that year and putting up a surprise title challenge in 2015.

Pushing the club beyond the group stages of the AFC Cup may well see the German-Croat’s stock rise even higher.

Meanwhile, opposite counterpart Alex Chu will be hoping to follow up on last weekend’s 1-0 domestic victory over Yuen Long, for which he took over just hours after the announcement of Garcia’s departure.

The former Hong Kong international had actually stepped into this role before back in 2013, where he took over then-coach Alex Gomez and managed to steer them to the league championship in the same year.

Facts and Figures

Past Meetings

  • Kitchee 3-0 Balestier (AFC Cup, Feb ‘16)
  • Balestier 1-2 Kitchee (AFC Cup, Apr ‘16)

  • This is Balestier’s second AFC Cup appearance, following their debut last year where they finished bottom of the group with one win and five losses.
  • This is Kitchee’s sixth AFC Cup appearance, after being involved in 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The furthest they went was the semi-finals in 2014, where they lost 3-2 to Iraq’s Erbil SC on aggregate.
  • The two clubs had faced off in last year’s competition, with Kitchee prevailing 3-0 at home before going to Jalan Besar to nick a 2-1 win.
  • Kitchee have a fantastic record against Singaporean clubs in the AFC Cup. They beat Warriors FC 4-2 away and 5-0 at home in 2013, as well as thrashed Tampines Rovers 5-0 away and 4-0 at home in 2014.

FourFourTwo prediction

Balestier will put up an admirable fighting display, but it wouldn’t be enough against such a strong Kitchee side. 3-0 to the visitors.

Photo: S.League