Balestier Khalsa vs Albirex Niigata (S): Can the Tigers overturn narrow deficit and cause an upset?
Balestier’s chance to spring a surprise on Albirex
Balestier Khalsa will certainly fancy doing what initially seemed impossible – handing defending Singapore Cup champions Albirex Niigata (S) a defeat in the semi-finals on aggregate and moving into the final.
After all, the Tigers only lost by a narrow 1-0 in Friday’s first leg and it was a result that could have been different had they capitalised on the chances that fell their way, particularly in the first half when they more than matched Albirex.
The hard and bumpy pitch at Toa Payoh Stadium may well play into the Balestier’s hands. In an earlier meeting between both teams at the same venue, the White Swans struggled to impose themselves and could have counted themselves lucky to walk away with a point.
That’s not to say that the Tigers can expect to just turn up on Tuesday and take a result for granted. Albirex have plenty of motivation – they are gunning for an unprecedented treble, which seems more and more likely with every passing day.
But with the hosts having not lost in their last four matches in front of their fans, another gritty performance from Marko Kraljevic’s boys might just do the trick and make Albirex pay for not scoring more goals in the first leg.
Albirex will welcome Atsushi Kawata back, and the return of their top scorer will undoubtedly serve as a boost for the White Swans.
As for Balestier, they will continue to miss Fazli Ayob, while Emir Lotinac remains a doubt as well after missing the first leg.
Key Battle: Miroslav Kristic vs Kento Fujihara
To be able to cause an upset, Balestier will need to score goals and the most obvious player that task will fall to is Miroslav Kristic. The Croatian may not have hit the heights of last season but he is still a man Kraljevic trusts to do the job, especially in key matches.
Kristic will need to get the better of Kento Fujihara. The Albirex centre-back has been a solid performer this year and is one of the most dependable players in Japanese’s squad. He has hardly allowed opposing strikers a sniff at goal, so Kristic will have his work cut out for him.
It’s safe to assume that, for 45 minutes in the first leg, Kraljevic got the better of Naoki Naruo, although the difference in quality between both teams showed in the end.
Still, Kraljevic is known for getting the best out of his players, especially during crunch times, and he will definitely be looking to get one over Naruo once again.
Facts and Figures
- Only once in Balestier’s club history have they successfully overturned a losing deficit from the first leg. That was in 2013 against Hougang United at the quarter-final stages.
- Should Albirex make it into the final, it will be their first time in club history to make it all the way in two straight seasons.
- In last year’s meeting between both sides at the quarter-final stages, Albirex held a 1-0 lead from the first leg before winning 4-1 in the second leg.
Balestier Khalsa 2-0 Albirex Niigata (S). The Tiger to advance to the final. The form book usually gets thrown out when it comes to knock-out competitions, and in Kraljevic, Balestier have a coach who excels in cup competitions.
This is also the last chance for the Tigers to salvage some pride for what has been a disappointing season and Kraljevic will surely use that to fire his charges up.