Balestier, Albirex win big at FAS Nite
Balestier Khalsa endured a long, hard Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League season, eventually finishing third from bottom.
But at last night's Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Nite at Marina Bay Sands, two young Tigers trumped more illustrious rivals to bag two awards.
First, 23-year-old midfielder Huzaifah Aziz won the Goal of the Year award with his stunning volley against Garena Young Lions on Sept 20, beating three players from quadruple champions Albirex Niigata.
Then, Hazzuwan Halim was announced as the Young Player of the Year.
The midfielder-turned-striker, also 23, pipped hot favourite Irfan Fandi of Home United, who had a creditable season at S.League title contenders Home United, while also establishing himself in the first XI of the national team.
Hazzuwan was shocked at winning the accolade.
"Maybe it's just my luck this year," he said later, with a sheepish smile. "I'm still surprised. I really didn't expect this."
Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic was understandably proud of his two charges.
Said the German-born Croat: "I'm very happy for these two young boys. Both of them have very good attitude and they work very hard, and I think they are deserving winners.
"Huzaifah worked very hard and did very well when I moved him from the wing to centre midfield in the second half of the season.
"And Hazzuwan has a winning mentality."
Both players, who will stay with Balestier next season, paid tribute to Kraljevic for his role in their development.
"Playing as a striker is a good challenge and a hard one, too," said Hazzuwan, who rose from Balestier's Prime League (Under-21 reserve) squad.
"But if coach Marko believes in me, I'll go for it."
Added Huzaifah: "I was a bit surprised coach Marko saw the potential for me to play as a central midfielder.
"He has definitely played a big part in the changes I have gone through."
Albirex, meanwhile, claimed three of the biggest awards.
Kazuaki Yoshinaga won the Coach of the Year Award, while playmaker Kento Nagasaki was named the Player of the Year.
Their striker Tsubasa Sano also won the Golden Boot Award for being the S.League's top scorer with 26 goals.
In addition to handing out awards for the recently concluded S.League season, the FAS also celebrated its 125th anniversary.
Former FAS presidents such as John Koh and Ho Peng Kee were in attendance, although Zainudin Nordin was absent. - SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ