Zulkiffli's goal enough to beat Kitchee
Zulkiffli goal enough for Tigers to floor Hong Kong champions and top their group
BALESTIER KHALSA 1
(Zulkiffli Hassim 31)
KITCHEE SC 0
This will go down as one of the greatest nights in the history of Balestier Khalsa, after the S.League club rose to the top of Group F in the AFC Cup in only their second appearance in the competition.
It was a classic smash-and-grab, but the Tigers played out Marko Kraljevic's counter-attacking game plan to perfection as they beat the superior Kitchee SC 1-0 at Jalan Besar Stadium in front of 1,048 fans last night for their first win of the season.
They became the first Singaporean team to beat the Hong Kong Premier League champions in nine attempts spanning more than four years.
"This is what we expected from Kitchee, that they will have most of the possession," said Balestier coach Kraljevic.
"If we try to play the same game, we will lose. That's why we relied on the counter-attack and it worked."
The visitors had 16 shots at goal and nine corners compared to just five shots and no corners for the hosts, but what mattered most was Zulkiffli Hassim's (above, second from left) 31st-minute winner off Fadhil Noh's right-wing cross.
While Balestier centre back Emir Lotinac put in a colossal performance after a speedy return from a calf injury, it was a true team effort from the underdogs in a feisty affair that saw four players booked from each side.
Goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam was unbeatable between the posts to deny Rufino and Cheng Chin Lung, and Balestier's wingers and full backs were indefatigable on the flanks to stop the dangerous Kitchee wide men.
Even striker Miroslav Kristic, whose barren run extended to 540 minutes, ran himself to the ground at both ends of the pitch, chasing seemingly lost causes and winning a 39th-minute penalty.
Unfortunately for him, Kitchee goalkeeper Wang Zhenpeng pulled off a great save to deny him a goal.
Kitchee may have been missing their foreign centre back Recio and winger Jordi Tarres, but Kraljevic said: "What do you want me to do? We also have Robert Pericic out injured and played with only two imports, this is football. We worked very hard and luck follows brave people."
With Filipino outfit Kaya beating New Radiant from the Maldives 1-0, Balestier went top of the group, a situation that caught Kraljevic by surprise.
He said: "The S.League is a good and competitive league which some people don't give enough respect to.
"Last year, we lost to eventual champions Johor Darul Ta'zim by a stoppage-time goal here and conceded only in the last 15 minutes away.
"We are a better team than last season because we now have more experienced players like Jamil Ali and Syafiq Zainal.
"I hope this can kickstart our league campaign."
- BALESTIER KHALSA:
Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Emir Lotinac, Hanafi Salleh, Fadhil Noh (Syafiq Zainal 56), Gary Loo (Jamil Ali 58), Shah Hirul Yusof (Hazzuwan Halim 76), Fazli Ayob, Zulkiffli Hassim, Miroslav Kristic
- KITCHEE SC:
Wang Zhenpeng, Lo Kwan Yee, Kim Taemin, Li Ngau Hoi, Tong Kin Man, Sham Kwok Keung (Harima Hirokane 65), Ngan Lok Fung (Cheng Chin Lung 70), Huang Yang, Christian Kwesi (Law Tsz Chun 74), Rufino del Burgo, Lam Ka Wai
- TNP Man of the Match:
Emir Lotinac (Balestier Khalsa)