Balestier Khalsa vs New Radiant: Do-or-die mission for the Tigers
Balestier Khalsa Form
Balestier 2-0 Garena Young Lions (S.League)
DPMM 3-1 Balestier (S.League)
Balestier 0-3 Kaya FC (AFC Cup)
Tampines Rovers 1-0 Balestier (S.League)
Balestier 0-1 Home United (S.League)
New Radiant Form
New Radiant 0-2 Kitchee SC (AFC Cup)
Kitchee SC 0-0 New Radiant (AFC Cup)
Kaya 1-0 New Radiant (AFC Cup)
New Radiant 2-2 Balestier (AFC Cup)
A match that Balestier simply cannot lose (if they want to keep their hopes of progressing into the AFC Cup knockout stage alive).
Finally, after nine matches in, Balestier Khalsa managed to get their first league win of the season by dispatching Garena Young Lions (GYL) 2-0.
The result wasn’t a surprise given that they were facing the league’s weakest team. However, Marko Kraljevic’s charges had taken nothing for granted given how they have toiled hard all season without much to show for.
Chief forward Miroslav Kristic finally broke his goal drought in 2016 by scoring inside four minutes, before defender Fadli Kamis thumped home an acrobatic finish against his former side just before the break to seal all three points for the Tigers.
That should set them up nicely for this do-or-die AFC Cup Group F clash against New Radiant. The Maldivian champions have nothing except pride to play for, with no chance of making it into the round of 16 after collecting just two points from four matches.
As for Balestier, their hopes of making it through remain alive – albeit barely. Trailing second-placed Kitchee SC by three points with an inferior goal difference, they have no choice but to win this encounter.
If they can achieve that, things will then go down to the final matchday where they face the difficult task of taking a positive result away against Hong Kong champions Kitchee.
The task sounds difficult, but progress is still mathematically possible.
The big absentee for Balestier will be Kristic, who is suspended for this game due to accumulating two yellow cards.
With fellow forward Robert Pericic still being rehabilitated from injury, that means the Tigers can only field one foreigner in the form of defender Emir Lotinac.
Fazli Ayob should return to the starting XI after missing the 2-0 win against GYL through suspension but this match should come too early for his midfielder partner Shah Hirul, who only recently recovered from injury.
As for New Radiant, they will have to play without first-choice goalkeeper Sulemana Abu after the Ghanaian was given a straight red for handing the ball outside the box during their 2-0 home defeat to Kitchee two weeks ago.
Fairooz Ahmed, who played out the final 25 minutes of that game, will likely deputise again.
Key Battle: Syafiq Zainal vs Fairooz Ahmed
Without Kristic, Syafiq is likely to be handed the responsibility of leading the line for the Tigers.
The 24-year-old has yet to score since returning to the club which he made his S.League debut in 2010, thus this perhaps the perfect opportunity to prove a point.
In his way is 33-year-old goalkeeper Fairooz, who will surely relish a rare opportunity to start for New Radiant.
Kraljevic’s face was awash with relief after his Balestier side finally got their first league win of the campaign.
The German-Croat has always managed to work around a shoestring budget and it will be quite a feat if he can steer the club to a historic appearance in the AFC Cup. Once again, he will have to contend with fatigue though – with this game being their 6th in 24 days.
With nothing much to play for, opposite counterpart Yordan Stoykov will be using this game to test out his players for their defence of their domestic crown.
The former Bulgarian international got off to an ominous start in his first domestic game in charge of New Radiant as his side fell to a 2-3 defeat to title rivals Maziya at home.
Facts and Figures
- These two sides met on the first match day, with New Radiant salvaging a 2-2 draw at home after substitute Rilwan Wahmeed scored an injury-time equaliser.
- Balestier have won just twice in 13 games in all competitions this season – beating Kitchee 1-0 in the AFC Cup and GYL 2-0 in the S.League.
- New Radiant have yet to win this season – with two draws and four defeats in the AFC Cup, as well as one defeat in their domestic league.
- New Radiant are one of the three teams that have scored more than one goal against Balestier this season – the other two are Kaya FC and Brunei DPMM.
Trust Kraljevic’s charges to pull something out of the hat in this time of need. Balestier to nick it 2-1 and live to fight another day.
Main photo: Balester Khalsa FC