Warriors star can't wait to tangle with Juventus defence
Miroslav Pejic is no stranger to Italian opposition.
Warriors FC's Croat striker, who will trade the S.League club's blue strip for a Singapore Selection side's red when they take on Italian giants Juventus at the new National Stadium on Saturday, has had some experience grappling with Italian defenders.
At Croatian top-tier side NK Zagreb, where he played from 2005 to 2012, he faced Italian opposition four times in sparring matches.
And, while the 28-year-old agrees with the old adage of Italians being the masters of the art of defence, he is backing the Singapore side to breach the Bianconeri's goal.
"It is true what people say, it does seem tougher to play against Italian defences," said Pejic, who faced the likes of Udinese, Chievo, Torino and Hellas Verona.
"Italian teams play a different style, it's very tactical, but this is not to say you cannot compete with them.
"There are still spaces and gaps you can take advantage of.
"I believe with the players we have, we can score."
Pejic sheepishly admits he didn't manage to find the target in any of those four appearances against the Italian sides, but quickly and proudly pointed out that he set up a teammate for a goal against Udinese.
The 1.84m-tall forward has been in fine scoring form since signing for the Warriors at the start of the year, plundering 10 goals in 17 games in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League.
As one of the three foreign players called up by national coach Bernd Stange for the Singapore Selection team, he admits he does feel the weight of expectation to produce something extra.
"I think about it a little, but it does not really bother me," he said.
"Instead, I think of the enjoyment of playing in this sort of match, against the legends of Juventus, and I forget about the pressure."
Pejic puffs his cheeks and exhales deeply when he recalls how well Chilean star Alexis Sanchez - a new signing for English Premier League club Arsenal - played for Udinese against Zagreb.
"Everybody knows he is good but that day, seeing him up close, he was magic, man."
Pejic is expecting Juventus' own stable of magicians to weave their own brand of magic on the turf of the National Stadium, and he is relishing the chance to go toe-to-toe with them.
"I'm really excited... It's a big honour to be part of this game," he said.
"I think we can surprise them. Why not?
"Teams like Juventus, when they come to pre-season tours like this, don't give 100 per cent. But we will.
"And we have a good team. The national team play a lot of games together, and they recently went on a training camp in Austria where they played European teams, so they know what to expect.
"We won't be signing a surrender before the game. We want to prove ourselves and try to do something positive. And I think we can."
Velez to meet ex-clubmate
Long time no see, buddy.
Those will be the words uttered by Singapore Selection forward Nicolas Velez when he greets Juventus' attacking midfielder Roberto Pereyra before their match at the National Stadium on Saturday.
The duo played alongside each other in the Under-18 team of Argentinian giants River Plate, and, while their careers might have taken them down radically different paths, fate has brought them back together in Singapore.
"I talked to Pereyra earlier this week," said Velez, who plays for Warriors FC in the Great Eastern Yeo's S.League.
"We are looking forward to meeting each other because it has been three or four years since he left Argentina to go to Italy.
"Now we have the chance to see each other again."
Velez and Pereyra played together in a River Plate youth team that also featured current Tottenham Hotspur star Erik Lamela.
Pereyra managed to make the breakthrough to the Los Millonarios' first team in 2009, and within two years, earned a move to Italian side Udinese.
After making more than 100 Serie A appearances, Juventus came calling and snapped the midfielder up on a year-long loan last month, with an option to sign at the end of the upcoming season.
Velez decided to leave River Plate in search of first-team football, and joined another top-division Argentinian team, Huracan.
He then moved across the Atlantic to Spanish third-tier team Atletico Sanluqueno, before joining the Warriors at the start of the year.
The 24-year-old South American has been in blistering form for the S.League giants, scoring 14 goals in 18 games, and is currently the competition's joint second-best scorer.
He is eager to prove he still has what it takes to mix it with old pal Pereyra and the stars of Juventus.
"Since I started playing football, I always dreamt of playing against the biggest stars in football," he said.
"Now I have the chance."
Apart from Pereyra, Juventus boast another Argentinian star - Carlos Tevez.
Velez says he still cannot wrap his head around the fact he could come face to face with one of his footballing heroes.
"When I was a child, I looked up to Tevez as one of my idols," said the 1.74m-tall striker.
"For me, he is among the top three Argentinian players now, and he should have been at the World Cup.
"I can't believe I might be sharing the same pitch with him."
Lest one thinks Velez is content to play the role of fanboy on Saturday, the player insists he has other ideas.
"There will be three Argentinians on Saturday, two playing for Juventus and one for Singapore," he said.
"So, if among the three of us, I can perform the best, that would be excellent.
"Singapore has given me a chance to play at a good team with Warriors, and the chance to play in a big match like this. I want to give back.
"I hope we can play a good game. It won't be easy but I hope we can surprise."
Ticket prices for Singapore Selection v Juventus* Cat 1: 10,000 seats - $180 Cat 2: 10,000 seats - $110 Cat 3: 16,000 seats - $70 Cat 4: 16,000 seats - $45 * There will be 3,000 complimentary tickets for the match For patrons under 16 years of age, tickets are priced from $30 to $45.
Ticket prices stated do not include promotional discounts.
Fans have a chance to win exclusive access to a Juventus training session by purchasing 11 tickets at one time.
Tickets can be purchased at Sports Hub Tix (www.sportshubtix.sg)