Balestier’s AFC Cup hopes in limbo after Kaya drubbing

Balestier Khalsa’s hopes of making it into the AFC Cup knockout stages were severely hit after a 3-0 thrashing by Philippines side Kaya FC at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday night.  

Two goals in the first 30 minutes put Kaya in a commanding position, before the visitors eventually sealed the deal 17 minutes from time in front of 1,143 spectators.

It was a torrid night for Balestier, who endured their fifth straight loss in all competitions and failed to score for the seventh time in 11 games.

To compound matters, chief forward Miroslav Kristic missed a penalty when the score was 2-0 and failed to end his scoring duck for 2016.

Naturally, Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic cut a disappointed figure at the post-match press conference.

“If he had scored that penalty, it would have been a different story,” he lamented. “After the miss, the heads went down and the boys were thinking that the game’s over.

“But we cannot blame luck this time round. Kaya were the better team; they were moving very fast and won the 50-50s.”

Balestier actually started off the better side and had an excellent opportunity to open the scoring after just nine minutes.

Syafiq Zainal seized a poor Kaya ball out of defence and released Fazli Ayob, who in turn put Kristic through on goal, but the Croatian forward was denied at point-blank range by Kaya keeper Matthew Acton.

Four minutes later, Zulkiffli Hassim put in a teasing ball from the left but Emir Lotinac - playing in a defensive midfield role - was just unable to adjust his feet in time.

They would pay the price in the 15th minute, with Ghanaian midfielder Alfred Osei heading home Kenshiro Daniels’ inswinging corner.

Buoyed by that goal, the away side piled on the pressure with Daniels forcing Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam into a diving save and Osei seeing his goal-bound shot charged down by Sheikh Abdul Hadi.

Photo: Weixiang Lim / FFT

They were rewarded for their persistence on 25 minutes, with Daniels expertly controlling Jovin Bedic’s lobbed pass before firing a low finish beyond Zaiful from close range to double his side’s lead.

The 2-0 scoreline remained till half-time, with Kraljevic putting on Jamil Ali and Fadhil Noh for Gary Loo and Syafiq respectively after the break.

The Tigers duly earned the chance to reduce arrears on 64 minutes after Kristic was fouled in the box by Kaya centre-back Masanari Omura.

However, just like in the 1-0 home win against Kitchee, the Croatian forward found his penalty parried by the goalkeeper.

Kaya then put the result to bed on 73 minutes, with substitute Louis Max Clark latching on to a ball over the top before calmly slotting past the onrushing Zaiful to complete the rout.

With Kitchee SC beating New Radiant on the same night, Balestier’s hopes of progressing out of Group F have taken a real blow.

There is now a three-point gap between them and second-placed Kitchee, with just two rounds of matches left to go.

The Tigers will host New Radiant two weeks later, before travelling to Hong Kong to take on Kitchee on the final match day on May 10.

“Our chances to qualify are now very slim,” admitted Kraljevic. “We must beat New Radiant before going to Kitchee to get a result.

“Hopefully along the way, other results go our way and somehow give us the hope. Now we’re still alive.”

Photo: Weixiang Lim / FFT