Balestier set sights on AFC Cup triumph over JDT

Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic insists his side will not be fazed by coming up against a star-studded Johor Darul Ta’zim in Tuesday’s AFC Cup Group F encounter.

The Singaporean outfit entertain Harimau Selatan at the Jalan Besar Stadium looking to kick-start their continental campaign, having been beaten 3-0 by Kitchee in their opening match.

Meanwhile, JDT  will be looking to build on a 4-1 triumph over East Bengal from two weeks ago, and are fresh off the back of a 2-1 victory over Sarawak in the Malaysia Super League.

But while the odds appear to be firmly stacked against them, Kraljevic has called on his charges to believe that they can spring a surprise on Tuesday evening.

“Of course, I believe we can win,” he said. “If we don’t, we might as well not play – there’s no need to waste time.

“We’re playing at home, on an artificial pitch that almost all of my first XI have had experience playing on it or at least a year.

“I have three foreigners available to play, we have home advantage and with the artificial pitch, I think this could give us some kind of edge.”

Kraljevic and Darul Ta’zim boss Bojan Hodak are known to be good friends, having played together at both Balestier and the now-defunct Jurong FC.

Although he admits their friendship has given him an intimate knowledge of not just Tuesday’s opponents, but Malaysian football as a whole, Kraljevic does not believe that necessarily makes his job easier.

“I was a player a long time ago,” the German-born Croat added. “It’s totally different from then and now.

“One reason I watch Malaysian football is for Bojan, but another reason is because it has improved a lot.

“The clubs have improved a lot, everything is moving along well and a lot of good players are being brought in. When you play with good players, you become better as well.

“But we’ll have to wait and see what actually happens in tomorrow’s game. You can prepare all you want in training, but it’s only in the actual game when you see how well you have prepared your team.”

The man that will be tasked to keep JDT’s fearsome strike force at bay on Tuesday is goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, who has steadily established himself as one of Singapore’s top custodians over the past few seasons.

While he acknowledges the likes of Safee Sali, Safiq Rahim and Amri Yahyah would strike fear into most goalkeepers’ hearts, he is relishing the opportunity to come up against them.

“Maybe it will be tough for a goalkeeper with the quality starting line-up they have, but it is also a good experience for me,” he said.

“If they have more national team players, it also allows us to see how far we can match it with them. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.

“If we still want to qualify for the next round, we need to push to get the points and we cannot afford to lose Tuesday’s match.

“The most important thing is for the team to play together and we must really want it. That’s the most important thing for me.”



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