Balestier back to convincing critics again
GARENA YOUNG LIONS v BALESTIER KHALSA
(Tonight, 7.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Marko Kraljevic must be wondering what more his Balestier Khalsa players have to do to prove their credentials.
The Tigers have emerged from the shadows over the past three years, twice finishing fourth in the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League while also winning the RHB Singapore Cup and the League Cup - the first pieces of silverware in the club's history.
Yet, on the eve of a new campaign, many have once again tipped them to struggle, even though they have retained several key players including Zaiful Nizam and Miroslav Kristic, while reinforcing the squad with experienced campaigners in Jamil Ali and Shah Hirul.
Promising youngsters Sheikh Abdul Hadi and Syafiq Zainal have also been drafted in, as coach Kraljevic plots another season of success for the Toa Payoh-based club.
Happy-go-lucky as always, he dismissed the naysayers ahead of their season-opener against the Garena Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
With a mischievous grin, he told The New Paper: "I don't think there's too much to worry about as everyone is predicting we will finish eighth.
"So the only pressure for us is to beat Young Lions, because they've been tipped to finish ninth, and we'll be okay… Anything more than that is a bonus.
"But seriously, I'm really confident we can do well and I think if we can finish in the top half, around fourth or fifth, we will have done a great job."
Kraljevic revealed that preparations have been affected by an injury to Croatian striker Robert Pericic, who netted 10 goals in all competition last season.
Signing a replacement is on the agenda, although the coach believes they have enough firepower even if they ultimately fail to land a new import.
The German-born Croat added: "We've lost Robby for at least two months so we're looking to sign a new Under-21 player and register him in the Prime League (squad).
"But we have a few players who could step up and shine.
"Maybe Syafiq Zainal or Jamil could win us some games, while Fazli Ayob, Zulkiffli (Hassim) and Fadhil (Noh) are still here, so I think we're actually okay in attack."
On the other hand, Young Lions will be missing their main man up front tonight, with Singapore international Khairul Amri two weeks away from a return.
They are also still waiting to officially welcome new coach Patrick Hesse - his appointment was first revealed by TNP on Feb 2 - as the Frenchman has yet to receive his Employment Pass.
Hesse was present at the Young Lions' training session at Jalan Besar yesterday and was seen speaking with team officials, but it was national youth teams head coach Richard Tardy who put the players through their paces.
Tardy will be alone in the dugout tonight, and the Frenchman told TNP: "We must remember that one of the targets is to give more experience in the S.League to these young players, many of whom are coming from the Prime League or the (National Football Academy) Under-18s.
"It will be very difficult and the players know it, but it will be good for them and they must prove themselves.
"There will be no easy games for them and they must keep fighting all the way through the season, because progress is not just technical, tactical or physical, but especially mental.
"It's very exciting now that the first game is here and we'll aim to do all we can to help these young players become the best in Singapore in the future."