Just do your best, Grace Fu tells Olympians

EXCITED: Elizabeth Yin (left, chatting with Ms Grace Fu) says the water current and weather in Rio are unpredictable.

The Singapore team heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in August are arguably the strongest ever, with medal prospects in three sports.

The female paddlers, headed by Feng Tianwei, have won a silver and two bronzes in the last two Olympics, while Joseph Schooling is bidding to be the first Singaporean to win an Olympic medal in the pool.

Shooter Jasmine Ser also previously told The New Paper that she is ready to step up and challenge for a medal, with podium places in major competitions such as the World Cup to show for.

But Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu is just expecting the Team Singapore athletes to give a "very good performance" in Brazil.

"We just hope that our athletes will do their best," said Fu, on the sidelines of her visit to the National Sailing Centre yesterday, when she interacted with Olympic-bound sailors such as Elizabeth Yin and Leonard Ong.

"It's not easy in the whole journey towards medalling at the Olympics. Medal or not, I think we all look forward to a very good performance (from them), and for them to fly our flag high in Rio."

MORE ENTRIES

The Singapore National Olympic Council has given the nod to 21 athletes across six sports to compete in the Games, with more expected from athletics and swimming in the coming months.

Eight athletes will be competing in at least their second Olympics, with nine sailors forming almost half the contingent.

Among them is Laser Radial sailor Yin, who made her Olympic debut in London 2012, where she finished 24th among 41 sailors.

The 24-year-old said: "I just want to go out there and try to have fun, but I also definitely want to do better than how I did last time."

The 2009 Isaf Youth World Championships Laser Radial champion is back in Singapore for a few days, following a training stint in Weymouth in the United Kingdom.

Before that, she also trained in Rio, and will be leaving for the Brazilian city at the end of the month for her final preparations.

"It is quite different each time we go out to sail there, in terms of the wind and the current," Yin said.

"You'd never know what you are going to get when you're sailing in Rio, so it'd be quite interesting to see what happens (during the races).

"I am quite excited just thinking about it."

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Tokic the answer to Balestier's scoring woes

Coach Kraljevic says new Croatian signing is Tigers' answer to Stags' free-scoring attack

STAR MAN: Croatian striker Niko Tokic has made an instant impact for Balestier Khalsa, scoring a goal against Hougang United and notching two assists against Home United in his first two games.

BALESTIER KHALSA v TAMPINES ROVERS

(Tonight, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 
& 76.25MHz)

It's second versus second from bottom in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League tonight.

A Tampines Rovers win over Balestier Khalsa looks like a foregone conclusion, but Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic has other ideas.

The Stags have scored 10 goals in their last two games, beating Brunei DPMM FC (4-3) and the Garena Young Lions (6-1) with attack-minded displays.

But Kraljevic said that this cavalier approach is precisely what he is looking to capitalise on.

"Yes, they have scored goals, but it has been all down to their individual players," said the German-born Croat.

"At the same time, they leave a lot of space behind which we can exploit. I'm confident we can do just that."

Kraljevic has reason to be bullish.

Since the S.League's mid-season break, Balestier have drawn with Hougang United (2-2) and beaten high-flying Home United (3-1).

The marked improvement is partly down to the signing of Croatian striker Niko Tokic in the mid-season window.

INSTANT IMPACT

Tokic replaced injured compatriot Robert Pericic, who failed to make a single appearance this season because of a knee injury.

The newcomer has already made an instant impact, scoring against Hougang and notching two assists against Home.

Said Kraljevic: "Niko is the perfect player for us, he's working hard and helping everyone.

"He's always there in and around the box, he can hold the ball well and, in the last game, he created two goals. What more can I ask for?

"Of course, the mood around the squad is also better when you are playing better."

Tampines coach Akbar Nawas, who took over the reins from V Sundramoorthy - who was recently appointed national coach - knows his side cannot underestimate the Tigers.

"Their new striker has added confidence to the team," said the former Marine Castle player.

"They've got a good run going and it takes a good team to beat Home United 3-1.

"You can't discount them just because of their place in the table.

"We know Balestier have two good strikers and are known for getting the ball to them as quick as possible.

"It's been effective for them for a while now and makes them dangerous.

"We have to be aware of their strengths but, at the same time, not nullify our own attack."


BY THE NUMBERS

10 Tampines Rovers have scored 10 goals in their last two games, beating Brunei DPMM FC (4-3) and the Garena Young Lions (6-1).

Naruo demands improvement

Albirex coach wants White Swans to cut out mistakes

It will be a tough game because Home can move the ball well even under pressure... Home also have players with plenty of ability and winning the individual battles will be important. — Albirex coach Naoki Naruo (far right) - SPH FILE PHOTO

Most coaches would be satisfied with two wins in six days, while maintaining a seven-point lead at the top of the table.

But, given how good his players have been this season, Albirex Niigata coach Naoki Naruo could be forgiven for being disappointed by their last two displays in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

Following the international break, the White Swans resumed their league campaign by throwing away a two-goal lead, needing a last-gasp winner to see off Warriors FC 3-2.

And, two days ago, they found themselves a goal down at half-time against Hougang United, who were winless in five matches, before hitting back to claim a 2-1 victory.

"It has been difficult to carry over our momentum from before the break," Naruo admitted to The New Paper.

"We haven't shown our usual quality in attack and we have looked very vulnerable to counter-attacks.

"The goals we've conceded have been either from individual mistakes or set-pieces, so that's something we want to improve on.

"Our opponents will always be analysing us and finding areas to exploit, although we still managed to get the victories.

"Now, we will aim to continue winning and regain the initiative."

Albirex's next opponents are Home United tomorrow, whom they beat 3-0 at the Jalan Besar Stadium in their last meeting in April, courtesy of an Atsushi Kawata hat-trick.

THREAT

However, Naruo is the first to admit that the scoreline did not provide an accurate reflection of the contest, and is aware the Protectors will pose a genuine threat despite being winless in their last two matches.

The Japanese tactician said: "In the last game against Home, our goals came from set-pieces and I felt we didn't work well as a team.

"It will be a tough game because Home can move the ball well even under pressure, so we need to be organised in defence and make use of what we've learnt in the past two games.

"Home also have players with plenty of ability and winning the individual battles will be important."

While Albirex are currently on course to winning their maiden S.League crown, Naruo insists he is not entertaining such thoughts at the moment.

"I'm not thinking about the title race," he said.

"(Second-placed) Tampines are a very strong team, while I felt that (defending champions) Brunei DPMM were also very dangerous when we played them.

"Yet, Home managed to score five goals against DPMM earlier this season, so I believe they are very strong… All we need to focus on right now is the game against them." 
- GABRIEL TAN

Home looking to end poor run

Home United out to end poor run and prove a point against league leaders Albirex

STRONG STRIKE FORCE: Home have no shortage of firepower, with the likes of (from left) Ken Ilso, Azhar Sairudin, and Faris Ramli in attack.
"It definitely isn’t going to be easy, but we have to be able to deal with it. What I can guarantee is that the boys are eager to go out there and do something about it." - Home assistant coach Robin Chitrakar (above), on halting the Protectors’ slump

ALBIREX NIIGATA v 
HOME UNITED

(Saturday, 8pm, Jurong East Stadium)

After an excellent run of form saw them emerge as possible challengers for the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title, Home United now find their backs against the wall.

A five-game winning run in all competitions prior to the mid-season break was brought to a halt by a 2-2 draw with bottom side Garena Young Lions last week.

Things got worse on Tuesday with a 3-1 defeat by second-from-bottom Balestier Khalsa.

Next up is arguably the toughest of all tests when they visit leaders Albirex Niigata this evening, a task made even tougher with coach Philippe Aw set to be missing from the dugout for the second game running due to a family bereavement.

In his absence, assistant coach Robin Chitrakar will be the one looking to halt the Protectors' slump in what he admits is "an uphill task".

"Of course, it's disappointing that we did well before the break and, right after that, we've already dropped five points since," he told The New Paper.

EAGER

"It definitely isn't going to be easy, but we have to be able to deal with it.

"What I can guarantee is that the boys are eager to go out there and do something about it."

Home could be dealt another blow, with French defender Sirina Camara struggling with knock to his knee, although they are set to welcome back Danish marksman Ken Ilso after he was sidelined for the clash with Balestier with an ankle injury.

One of the Protectors' strengths this season has been their irrepressible attack comprising Ilso, Azhar Sairudin, Khairul Nizam and Faris Ramli, who have combined for 19 of their 26 goals.

With his third-placed side now 13 points off the pace, Azhar believes it is time they prove themselves as contenders and not pretenders.

The Singapore international said: "With the quality of players we have, I don't see why we can't be title contenders.

"We needed some time to gel, given we had new players like Faris, Zulfahmi (Arifin) and Nizam coming in but, from the previous good run we had, you can see we're really starting to gel.

"We're hoping this game against Albirex can be a real turning point.

"It's going to be tough and we'll need the senior players to lift the team, so hopefully I can be one of them."

The stakes are certainly high for Home tomorrow and another defeat could see even more doubts raised over their title credentials.

Nonetheless, Protectors centre back Abdil Qaiyyim insists the situation they find themselves in will ensure he and his teammates will have no lack of motivation when they come up against the league leaders.

"It's obviously going to be a difficult game and we are fully aware what's on the line," added the 27-year-old.

"But we're going to go out there to do our best and try to win it for coach Philippe."


FIXTURES

TODAY

Albirex Niigata v Home United (8pm, Jurong East Stadium)

Geylang International v Hougang United (8pm, Bedok Stadium)

SUNDAY

Garena Young Lions v Brunei DPMM (8pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)

Stags to 
edge the Tigers

WONDERFUL WEBB: Tampines Rovers forward Jordan Webb (right) will be hoping to continue his scoring form after netting a hat-trick against the Young Lions on Tuesday.

BALESTIER KHALSA v TAMPINES ROVERS

(Tonight, 8pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)

Both teams have made full use of the international break to regroup and this match can be billed as a battle of the resurgent teams.

Balestier Khalsa seem to have solved their scoring woes with the addition of Niko Tokic, who grabbed one goal and two assists in his first two games for the club as they drew Hougang United 2-2 before beating Home United 3-1. 

But Tampines Rovers have also rediscovered their scoring form in the 4-3 win over Brunei DPMM FC and 6-1 thumping of the Garena Young Lions - the 10 goals represented half of what they achieved from their previous 12 games.

I have to go with the quality on the teamsheet, which suggests the Stags will just edge out the Tigers.

  • Prediction: Take Tampines to win and Over 2.5 goals.

ALBIREX NIIGATA v 
HOME UNITED

(Tomorrow, 8pm, Jurong East Stadium)

Whether third-placed Home United can beat league leaders Albirex Niigata depends much on the fitness of their star striker Ken Ilso.

The great Dane has netted 11 times in all competitions this season for the Protectors and, in the 10 games he has scored in, Home have won seven and drawn three.

When Ilso hasn't scored, they have lost three and drew one, including the 3-0 defeat by Albirex Niigata in April.

So the result of this match hinges greatly on whether he can recover in time from the injury that ruled him out of the 3-1 defeat by Balestier earlier this week.

If he can, then there's a good chance they can disrupt the White Swans' nine-game winning streak and make it a more exciting title race.

Otherwise, expect Albirex to make it a perfect 10, with the in-form Tatsuro Inui keen to make a statement against his former team.

  • Prediction: Take Albirex to win. 

GEYLANG UNITED v 
HOUGANG UNITED

(Tomorrow, 8pm, Bedok Stadium)

The Eagles and the Cheetahs are hurting.

Geylang International had been on a good run of four wins in five games, but were beaten 2-0 by the seventh-placed Warriors FC, while Hougang United have now gone seven games without a win.

Incidentally, both teams have scored the same number of league goals - 19 in 14 games - which are the worst tallies outside the bottom two.

Hougang's Stipe Plazibat is among the league's top scorers with nine goals, but none of his teammates have more than two each, with just six other players having scored this season.

With both continuing to struggle to score and, with Hougang's draw-lose-draw-lose trend of results, I'm tipping a draw for this one.

  • Prediction: Take Draw and Under 2.5 goals. 

GARENA YOUNG LIONS v BRUNEI DPMM FC

(Sunday, 8pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)

Brunei DPMM FC were unlucky to lose to Tampines last week after coming from behind three times but failing to get even a point.

This game could go either way - DPMM's slump could continue, or the Garena Young Lions could face the brunt of a Bruneian backlash.

Poor goalkeeping and defending led to the Young Lions' heaviest defeat of the season as they lost 6-1 to Tampines and the national developmental squad must recover quickly if they are to avoid another thrashing and lose further ground on second-from-bottom Balestier.

Khairul Amri and Fareez Farhan always look good for a goal, but their defence has resembled a leaky faucet with 40 goals already conceded from just 15 games.

With Paulo Sergio and Rafael Ramazotti leading the DPMM frontline, you would fancy them to outscore the Young Lions.

  • Prediction: Take DPMM on the 1X2 and ½-Goal.

Hougang hoping to regain early-season form

Cheetahs looking to recapture early-season form which saw them top the S.League

"Nobody is weak in this league. Look at Home, they were not doing so well at the beginning but now they are in third place after winning several games in a row. So, anything can happen this season and all we need are a few good results in a row to get back on track." - Hougang United coach K. Balagumaran

GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL v HOUGANG UNITED

(Saturday, 8pm, Bedok Stadium)

They drew comparisons with surprise English champions Leicester City after upsetting Home United 1-0 on the opening day of the season, followed by a subsequent run that saw them top the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.

But Hougang United have since been brought back down to earth.

The Cheetahs have not won in seven matches in all competitions and are in fourth place on 19 points, a staggering 16 points behind pace-setters Albirex Niigata.

Their formidable home record - undefeated in six matches at the Hougang Stadium - was also brought to a halt by Albirex in a 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

But Hougang head coach K. Balagumaran believes the Cheetahs can bounce back.

"I believe in this group of players. I always tell them that we have a chance in every match," he told The New Paper.

"We have a young team and I have to keep them motivated.

"There is a lot of work to do for sure. We are different from teams like Tampines (Rovers) and Home (United), who have many experienced players.

"Nobody is weak in this league. Look at Home, they were not doing so well at the beginning but now they are in third place after winning several games in a row.

"So, anything can happen this season and all we need are a few good results in a row to get back on track."

The Cheetahs will be hoping to reverse their fortunes tonight, when they take on Geylang International at the Bedok Stadium.

The Eagles lost 2-0 to Warriors FC on Wednesday - their second defeat on the trot - but will not be easy opponents.

After a poor start to the season, Geylang found form before the international break, winning four of their last five matches in all competitions, including three in the league.

Even though his team beat Geylang 3-1 in their last encounter in April, Bala is anticipating a stern test for his charges.

"Geylang are a good team. I saw their match against Warriors in the RHB Singapore Cup and I was impressed," said the 51-year-old.

"They have some talented players and, on their day, they can beat anyone. Just because we defeated them before does not mean the same thing will happen.

"So, I think the key for this game is to remain focused and maintain concentration for the full 90 minutes.

"Hopefully, we can learn from all our past matches and use that to improve and get our season back on track."

Geylang general manager Aizat Ramli said his players are also determined to put a halt to their own mini-slump.

"We lost our last game, and we just have to look forward... That game is done and dusted," he said.

"We know that Hougang are a very tough team to beat.

"They are tactically disciplined, and a very hard and robust team.
"Having said that, this is our second encounter with them and, coming on the back of a loss, our players are eager to get back to winning ways.

"I shall leave it to the players to show how hungry they are to redeem themselves, against Hougang."

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