Balestier confident, despite missing foreigners and Male heat
Kraljevic is without two foreign players but he's confident of getting a result in hot Maldives
NEW RADIANT v
(Tonight, 7pm, National Football Stadium, Male, Maldives)
He has been based in Singapore for the last 20 years.
Ahead of his team's AFC Cup Group F clash with Maldives league champions New Radiant today, Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic insists the scorching heat they are experiencing in Male surpasses anything he's encountered in the Lion City.
The Tigers, who finished fourth in last season's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, begin their continental campaign today with a 4pm kick-off (local time) under the unforgiving Maldivian sun.
And it has got Kraljevic sweating.
"Last week, we trained a couple of times at 4pm, just to get used to the heat," he told The New Paper in a phone interview yesterday.
"But it's so different here, it's so much hotter than I've ever experienced in Singapore.
"Just look at the fact they've beaten another S.League team in Home United (in 2014) before... The weather is going to be an advantage for the home team."
To ensure his players are not overly dehydrated, Kraljevic limited yesterday's training session to just one and a half hours.
The 49-year-old arrived in Singapore in 1996 as a player and featured for Balestier, Tampines Rovers and Jurong FC, before retiring in 2001.
He became a permanent resident in 2000 and has been living and running a business in Singapore since.
Two years ago, he was given his first crack at coaching in the S.League with Balestier.
The German-born Croat has delivered the Tigers unprecendented success, winning the RHB Singapore Cup in his first season, which saw them qualify for last season's AFC Cup for the first time in their history.
They finished bottom of their group in their maiden continental campaign, but put in some creditable performances, most notably at home against eventual AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta'zim, who scraped victory, thanks to an injury-time goal.
Kraljevic said it is not beyond his side to finish in the top two of their group to qualify for the knockout rounds.
They are grouped with New Radiant, Hong Kong side Kitchee and Kaya FC of the Philippines.
"Last year, my boys won once and lost three games late on," he said.
"(New Radiant) are just in pre-season, their league starts in March, so they lack match fitness.
"If we can get a point or three, it would be a great start.
"And, if we can win two games at home and draw another two more away, I think eight points might be enough for us to qualify."
The problem for Kraljevic is that he can count on only one foreign import in Serbia striker Miroslav Kristic.
His two other Serbian imports - defender Emir Lotinac (calf) and targetman Robert Pericic (knee) - are injured.
Despite limited options, the coach is hoping for a positive result to lift the morale of his team, who kicked off their S.League campaign two weeks ago with a shock 1-0 defeat by the Garena Young Lions, who are tipped by many to finish bottom.
"Yes, of course we need the points and a good performance to bounce back from the Young Lions game," he said.
"But, honestly, my boys are not too affected. We had 22 shots in that game but could not score.
"As a coach, you would be really worried if we couldn't create chances.
"But yes, of course I would still like to see a better performance tomorrow. It will be important for our confidence."
it’s so different here, it’s so much hotter than I’ve ever experienced in Singapore.
— Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic on the conditions in Maldives