Balestier striker Kristic confident ahead of Hougang semi
With Kristic in sparkling form and team oozing confidence, coach Kraljevic predicts final spot
The hot and humid weather in Singapore has been Miroslav Kristic's biggest bugbear since he moved from Croatia's NK Imotski to Balestier Khalsa.
It hasn't affected the striker's form on the pitch, though.
The 25-year-old has been in red-hot form, and a menace to opposing defenders, with 10 goals to his name in all competitions already this season.
One of his strikes helped sink Hougang United 1-0 in a Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League clash earlier this year, and it is one of the reasons Kristic and the rest of the team are confident going into tonight's meeting between the two sides in The New Paper League Cup semi-final at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Said Kristic yesterday: "The reason I have been scoring regularly is because my teammates have been helping me a lot to adapt, on and off the pitch.
"The fact that coach Marko (Kraljevic) and the other foreign players (Emir Lotinac, Igor Cerina, Robert Pericic and Tarik Cmajcanin) are all from the same region in Europe has been a big help, as well.
"But you cannot compare the previous match (where Balestier won 1-0) and the upcoming match because Hougang have had so many changes in players since then."
Balestier are on a high, after thrashing S.League champions Warriors FC 4-0 and battling star-studded Tampines Rovers to a 2-2 draw in the competition's group stages, to reach the last four.
At the half-way mark of the S.League, the Tigers are fourth in the 10-team standings, while the Cheetahs are ninth.
But Hougang have picked up form in the TNP League Cup after making changes to their playing roster during the mid-season transfer window.
Lotinac and Cmajcanin are from Serbia, while Kristic, Cerina and Pericic are from Croatia.
Kraljevic was born in Germany, but is of Croatian heritage.
The coach, a 49-year-old former midfielder in the S.League, echoed his striker's thoughts on Hougang, and added: "That previous match is history and we focus on the present. We have done well in the group stages but it doesn't mean anything - one bad day and you're out.
"We must be consistent to the end."
While Hougang's mid-season signings, especially forwards Diego Gama and Vuk Sotirovic, pose obvious dangers to Balestier's backline, Kraljevic will play to his own team's strengths.
Winners of the competition in 2013, and Singapore Cup champions last season, the Toa Payoh-based club are aiming to make it a hat-trick of appearances in a cup final in as many seasons.
The players looked relaxed and confident during the 45-minute light training session at the Toa Payoh Stadium yesterday, and their buoyant mood was summed up by their coach.
Kraljevic said: "I am very, very optimistic that we can get into the TNP League Cup final."
THE NEW PAPER LEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINAL
BALESTIER KHALSA v HOUGANG UNITED
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Jalan Besar Stadium)
Hunger of the Cheetahs
They are ninth in the 10-team Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League, with just one win in 11 matches so far.
Which explains why the Cheetahs have surprised so many by their run to the semi-finals of The New Paper League Cup, where they face Balestier Khalsa tonight at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Salim Moin's men beat defending champions Brunei DPMM 1-0, drew against Geylang and Singapore Recreation Club, and advanced to the knock-out stages behind the Eagles.
Of his side's Cup run, Salim, 53, (below) said yesterday: "I am very proud of my boys, I told them that the TNP League Cup is a totally different ball game from our league campaign, and that we should use it as a stepping stone to improve in the second half of our S.League season.
"They have responded very well - they have been working very hard in training and the new foreign players have been a big motivating factor for the team as well."
The Cheetahs kept only two foreign players - Kunihiro Yamashita and Yuki Uchiyama - who featured at the start of this season's league campaign and signed new imports Atsushi Shimono, Carlos Delgado, Diego Gama (above) and Vuk Sotirovic.
In addition, Salim signed defender Delwinder Singh and midfielder Fazli Jaffar, who was with the Warriors earlier this season.
This is the second stint at the club for Gama (2014) and Delgado (2011).
The return of the old boys has been positive so far, even if the team were "complacent" in their last League Cup match, a 1-1 draw against amateur side SRC last Thursday.
Salim, a former Singapore international midfielder, said: "We have been scoring goals in the Cup, so that is a significant improvement, and we have also been defending well."
While he acknowledged that Balestier have been in very good form this season, his players are highly motivated to make it a third Cup final for Hougang.
They lost the League Cup final to Albirex Niigata on penalties in 2011, and suffered the same fate in the competition four years earlier, when Sengkang Punggol - Hougang's predecessors - finishing runners-up after going down 4-0 to Woodlands Wellington.
Said Salim: "Making the final and winning the trophy is a big motivation for the boys.
"It is our best chance to win a trophy this season, and hopefully they will rise to the occasion."