Tired, but Kitchee confident of beating Balestier
BALESTIER KHALSA v KITCHEE
(Tonight, 7.20pm, Singtel TV Ch 115 & StarHub TV Ch 209)
Over the last three years, Hong Kong's Kitchee SC have played six group matches against some of the best S.League teams in the AFC Cup, and won all of them.
They've beaten Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers and Balestier Khalsa by a whopping aggregate score of 23-3.
Little wonder current Kitchee coach Alex Chu is confident his side will win tonight's Group F match against Balestier at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Speaking at a pre-match press conference yesterday, Chu said: "We have come to Singapore for every AFC Cup campaign and done well, so we are confident of winning again.
"We are nicknamed the Hong Kong Barca and we are going to play our own style of passing and possession, and the Jalan Besar artificial pitch suits our game just fine. We are well prepared because we also have astroturf at our training centre."
The 49-year-old has been with the club for 11 years in various roles such as team manager and director of football, but took over the coaching reins a week ago following the resignation of Spaniard Abraham Garcia, who failed to settle in after eight months in the job.
Chu, a former Hong Kong international, oversaw a 1-0 league win over Yuen Long, and his biggest concern is over his team's fitness, after playing three games in a week before flying here.
"They are all knocked out in their rooms right now," he quipped.
"Also, it is still considered winter in Hong Kong now, with temperatures around 20 deg C but, over here, it is so hot and humid.
"I'm concerned about my players' recovery because this will be our fourth game in 10 days."
With temperatures in Singapore hitting 33 deg C, Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic wants his team to turn the heat up on their opponents, especially with Kitchee missing their injured Spanish players - centre back Recio and forward Jordi Tarres.
Said Kraljevic: "We are going to press them, attack them because we have to make our home games count if we want to make it to the knockout rounds.
"The Jalan Besar pitch gives us the edge because we are familiar with it and it will be energy-sapping, especially when our opponents have had to play many games in a short period of time."
The Tigers will need to keep an eye out for former Atletico Madrid striker Rufino Segovia, who has scored five goals in seven games.
Balestier are still looking for their first win of the season and will likely be without foreign defender Emir Lotinac and striker Robert Pericic, who are both injured. They have proven hard to beat despite having a new-look back four and midfield.
After a shock 1-0 loss to Garena Young Lions, they pulled off admirable draws against New Radiant (2-2), Albirex Niigata (1-1) and Geylang International (0-0), even if the lack of goals is a concern.
"We have a problem with finishing, and our striker (Miroslav) Kristic is having problems playing as a lone striker without Pericic," said Kraljevic.
"It will be tough, but when we believe, everything is possible.
"This is only our second AFC Cup campaign, but this is our chance, we have to go out and show how strong we are."