No choking this time, vows coach Kean
DPMM coach Kean promises no repeat of last season's collapse
BRUNEI DPMM v BALESTIER KHALSA
(Tonight, 8.15pm, Singtel TV Ch 001)
REPORTING FROM BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
It was a gloomy day in Brunei yesterday, with rain falling constantly at the Jerudong Mini Stadium, home of Brunei DPMM.
But the weather did little to dampen spirits in the DPMM camp as they prepared for potentially the biggest night in the club's 15-year history.
There was laughter all around the training ground as the players went through their warm-up session, although it did not take long for things to get serious.
Tonight, the Bruneian outfit head to the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium aware that victory over Balestier Khalsa would guarantee them a first Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League title.
They were in a similar situation last year, but spectacularly collapsed on the last day of the season, and coach Steve Kean has challenged his charges to rise to the occasion this time.
"We would have liked to have wrapped it up by now," the former Blackburn Rovers manager told The New Paper yesterday.
"But, like I've said before, if we can bring it to our last game at home and win it in order to win the title, we would have taken it.
"We need only one thing to happen… That's for us to win.
"You can see from the attitude of the lads that we're confident and in good form."
Much has been made about how DPMM let the title slip from their grasp last season, allowing the Warriors to win it at the last hurdle.
This term, they have also wasted a number of golden opportunities to wrap up the title in previous weeks.
Kean, however, is confident that the haunting memories of last term's collapse will not be playing on their minds.
He said: "If anything, I think we've taken a lot of positives from last year.
"It was a bit of a learning experience where we spent most of the time on top of the table before falling away at the end.
"I honestly believe that was due to the players having to cope with club and international commitments.
"When we came back (from the Suzuki Cup qualifiers), the players were physically and mentally shattered.
"This year, we're energetic, bright and bubbly… I see a dramatic difference and now we want to show everybody we can rise to the challenge.
"Football is about learning from your experiences.
"We might be a year older, but I believe our minds are a year brighter and we can use that as a massive positive."
For some of DPMM's loyal stalwarts, tonight could be their last chance to get their hands on the S.League trophy.
Kean believes being crowned champions would see many of the players "go down in folklore" and his captain Rosmin Kamis is determined to do just that.
"I've been at the club for nearly 11 years," he told TNP yesterday.
"Now at 34, I'm getting older, so I really want to give the club something before I eventually retire.
"Lifting the S.League title tomorrow would mean so much."
A massive turnout is already expected at the 30,000-capacity Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium tonight, although the club have spared no expense in drumming up the support with free entry to the match, as well as a lucky draw with flight tickets up for grabs.
Asked about the impact the fans could have, Rosmin added: "It's a good kind of pressure playing at home in front of a huge crowd and I hope it will serve to motivate all the players."
"This year, we’re energetic, bright and bubbly… I see a dramatic difference and now we want to show everybody we can rise to the challenge."
— Brunei DPMM coach Steve Kean
Kraljevic wants Balestier to spoil DPMM's title party
The future of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League is still uncertain, with clubs still holding out on offering contracts to any of their players.
But it was laughter that dominated the start of Balestier Khalsa's training session on Thursday.
Indeed, Marko Kraljevic's charges were positively pumped up ahead of tonight's away fixture in Bandar Seri Begawan, where they will be looking to cap a good season by spoiling Brunei DPMM's hopes for a title-winning party.
"We've had a good season, from the AFC Cup to The New Paper League Cup and, if you told me before the start of the season that we'd have a chance to finish third in the league, I would have taken it. I would have taken it and bought you lunch," said Kraljevic.
NEED FOR SPEED: Balestier Khalsa will be relying on Zulkiffli Hassim (arms raised) and Ignatius Ang (below) to probe the DPMM defence. -- TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG “My boys are all fighting for their future, fighting for contracts — and we are going to Brunei to attack and look for a win.” — Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic (above) -- TNP PHOTO: PHYLLICIA WANG
Balestier did not survive an AFC Cup group stage that saw them face eventual winners Johor Darul Ta'zim, but turned in credible performances.
They were beaten 2-1 by Albirex Niigata in the TNP League Cup final.
JOB NOT DONE
"Our job is not done, and there is still a lot to play for," added Kraljevic.
After last night's fixtures, Balestier are fourth, three points behind Tampines Rovers, but with an inferior goal difference.With second-placed Tampines two points adrift of leaders DPMM, Balestier can play party-poopers.
"V Sundramoorthy (Tampines head coach) needs a favour from us, but this has got nothing to do with them. We want to go out there and win that game, there is a lot left to fight for," he said.
"We don't know what is happening to the league next year, and my boys are all fighting for their future, fighting for contracts - and we are going to Brunei to attack and look for a win."
Balestier are the only side to have beaten DPMM twice this season, including a 2-1 win at the Bruneian capital in May, and Kraljevic is confident that they can do it again.
"Let's be honest, DPMM need three points (to be sure of winning the title), and they are playing in front of their own fans. The pressure is on themselves," he said.
"There used to be a feeling that if any club go to Brunei to play, it would have been almost impossible to win there, but not anymore," added the 40-year-old, who is predicting a Bruneian onslaught that he believes his charges can exploit.
"Our wide players will be important for us: Zulkiffli Hassim will need to use his speed to get behind their defence, and Ignatius Ang will be key too.
"The transition from defence to attack will determine how the game goes, but I'm confident we can win.
"We've had a good season, and I've been happy with how the team have done, and I hope we will be able to end the season nicely."
GEYLANG INTERNATIONAL 6
(Yuki Ichikawa 9, Bruno Castanheira 14, 85 Jozef Kaplan 79, 83, Hafiz Nor 80)
WARRIORS FC 0
ALBIREX NIIGATA 1
(Fumiya Kogure 2-pen)
HOUGANG UNITED 0
What Stags, Wasps need to do
FOR BRUNEI DPMM
The Bruneian outfit are in the driver's seat, leading the table by two points and with a slightly better goal difference of plus one.
As long as they beat Balestier Khalsa at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium tonight, they will win their first S.League crown.
FOR TAMPINES ROVERS
Tampines must beat Harimau Muda at the Jurong West Stadium tonight and hope that DPMM do not beat Balestier.
They can overtake DPMM if they win and the Bruneian side lose. If they win and DPMM draw, both teams will be level on points and the title will be decided by goal difference.
If they are still level on goal difference, the title will then be determined by the number of goals scored, followed by the number of wins.
Last season, the title fight also went to the wire.
DPMM, who led for most of the season, went into the final game in first place, level on points with Warriors FC, but with a vastly superior goal difference.
However, a 2-1 loss to Tampines at the Jalan Besar Stadium, coupled with the Warriors’ 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata at the Choa Chu Kang Stadium, saw them pipped to the title.