Charity Shield suggests a close S.League title race
WARRIORS FC 1
(Nicolas Velez 28)
BALESTIER KHALSA 0
It was not quite champagne football and the tempo of the match dipped towards the end.
But last night's Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League opener between Warriors FC and Balestier Khalsa at the Jalan Besar Stadium did throw up a host of thrills and spills in a clash that raised the curtain on the 20th edition of the Republic's premier football competition.
Defending league champions Warriors pipped RHB Singapore Cup winners Balestier Khalsa 1-0 to take the Great Eastern SG50 Charity Shield and the three points that went with the win.
Flashes of attacking brilliance from Alex Weaver's winning side crashed against crunching tackles from Marko Kraljevic's Balestier.
Both coaches believe that their charges will only get better, auguring well for a year that has been earmarked for a thorough review of the league.
"We didn't put in the perfect performance, but I'm pleased," said Weaver.
"Credit to Balestier, we had to change our formation to match theirs... they hit the post twice, but I think we had the clearer chances going forward, and I thought we were deserving winners."
Nicolas Velez and Miroslav Pejic turned in an effervescent display of attacking football, hinting that their partnership that took the Warriors to the title last year is getting even better.
It was Velez who found the back of the net in the 28th minute, cutting in from the left as both Pejic and Hafiz Rahim burst forward in support.
But he did not need assistance from his teammates, instead unleashing a daisy cutter that zipped in at Zaiful Nizam's near post.
Despite the win and a performance that promises more, Weaver does not expect an easy title defence.
"Looking at the teams that were there last year, they've made good changes. We've not made so many, we've gone for consistency and stability (instead)," said the Englishman.
"It's always good to refresh, but I would imagine those same teams will be there or thereabouts. Geylang International have strengthened as well and foreign teams like Albirex Niigata are looking strong."
In last night's other match, Brunei side DPMM FC started their season with a bang, defeating Malaysia's Harimau Muda 3-1 in Bandar Seri Begawan to serve early notice of their intention to go one further than they did last season, when they finished just three points behind Warriors in second place.
Kraljevic believes that even unheralded teams like his can push the big boys, and even surprise them.
"We were playing against the champions, but this was an even game that we also could have won," said the Croat.
"They won the game, but I'm very proud of my boys, they played very well. We have four new foreigners, but (Warriors) have whole squad from last year. We need some time and Jalan Besar is not easy for new players to come... but that's no excuse," he added.
Balestier retained only Emir Lotinac from their foreign legion last season, even parting ways with forward Goran Ljubojevic, who scored 27 goals in all competitions.
But Kraljevic promised more from his Tigers side, declaring: "I think we can do better."
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
Nicolas Velez (Warriors FC)
LAST NIGHT’S OTHER RESULT
Brunei DPMM 3 Harimau Muda 1