Balestier Khalsa nearly pulled off a surprise win over New Radiant at the National Stadium in Male despite having to contend with sweltering conditions and a threadbare squad.
I’m very upset of course. Things were going well for us
However, a Rilwan Waheed goal at the death made it 2-2 to dash the dream start the Tigers were hoping for, just when it seemed as though Fadhil Noh’s 69th-minute goal would give them all three points.
The game had kicked off at 4pm under the intense glare of the sun and Balestier only had one foreign player available as Emir Lotinac and Robert Pericic were both sidelined due to injury.
But Marko Kraljevic’s side were undaunted and managed to break the deadlock 10 minutes before half-time, with Fazli Ayob looping a header beyond New Radiant’s Ghanaian goalkeeper Sulemana Abu following a superb deep cross from right-back Fadli Kamis.
The home side hit back four minutes after the restart with forward Izzath Abdul Baree flicking a powerful header from captain Mohamed Rasheed’s left-wing cross past Balestier custodian Zaiful Nizam.
Balestier retook the lead on 69 minutes through a flowing team move that resulted in Miroslav Kristic setting up Jamil Ali, who squared across goal for Noh to apply the finishing touch.Yet they were cruelly denied all three points two minutes into injury time, as Hamza Mohamed took advantage of a defensive lapse by Balestier left-back Ahmad Syahir to tee up substitute Waheed, who thumped home the equaliser from a tight angle.
Speaking after the game, Kraljevic was understandably dejected that his side failed to hang on for what would be a memorable win.
“I’m very upset of course,” said the German-born Croat. “Things were going well for us in the first half and we went 1-0 up.
“Then in the second half, they put a lot of pressure on us. We conceded many unnecessary free-kicks and they gave us a lot of problems from such situations.
“At 2-1, we should have finished the game off but we didn’t. It’s very disappointing to lose two points (in this manner).”
Balestier’s next AFC Cup game will be against Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC at home on 8 March.
Photos: Balestier Khalsa FC