Balestier want second TNP League Cup in three years
Cup specialists Balestier hungry for second League Cup win in three years
ALBIREX NIIGATA v BALESTIER KHALSA
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 111 & MediaCorp okto)
Think Singapore football and the traditional powerhouses come to mind.
Tampines Rovers, Warriors FC and Home United have dominated the S.League for as long as anyone can remember, with 16 league and 13 Singapore Cup titles between them.
But The New Paper (TNP) League Cup has proven to be elusive for the big boys.
And it is in this competition where the smaller clubs have found success, and none more so than Balestier Khalsa, a club who used to dwell in the bottom half of the table just a few years ago but have now found their calling as serious cup specialists.
A surprising but deserved League Cup triumph in 2013, sealed with a thumping 4-0 win over Brunei DPMM, was followed up by a spectacular 3-1 victory over Home United in the Singapore Cup final last year.
They have a chance of making it two League Cup titles in three years when they face Albirex Niigata in the final at Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
Understandably, Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic is raring to go.
"You can see that the morale within the camp is very, very high," said the 49-year-old, after a training session at the same venue yesterday.
"A lot of that stems from our 3-2 win over Hougang (in the semi-final on Monday) and the boys believe that they have what it takes to keep on fighting, keep on pushing hard when the going gets tough.
"We did well for ourselves in the group stage (won 4-0 against Warriors and drew 2-2 with Tampines).
"It wasn't smooth sailing against Hougang, but we showed that we can do it.
"Hopefully, we can keep up the momentum and translate what we do in training into the match tomorrow.
"It won't be easy, though, as Albirex are a good, technically adept side with the best defence in the Cup and the league.
"But to help the team win a second League Cup in three years would be superb, it would be very good and I'm more than happy to establish us as cup specialists."
Leading their quest will be Croatian hotshot Miroslav Kristic, who has plundered an impressive 12 goals in all competitions this season, five of them coming in the League Cup alone. He is the tournament's joint-top scorer with Geylang International's Bruno Castanheira.
The 25-year-old Kristic, signed at the start of the season from Croatian third-division outfit NK Imotski, has proven to be every bit as effective as his predecessor, compatriot Goran Ljubojevic, who moved to Indonesia Super League club Sriwijaya.
With still half of the season left to play, Kristic is well on track to equal Ljubojevic's 26-goal tally from last year, but he has his eyes firmly on tonight's final.
"I feel very happy here, with a good coach, good teammates and a good style of play to help me settle and perform," said Kristic.
"It helps that we have players like Emir (Lotinac), Tarik (Cmajcanin) and Robert (Pericic), who all speak the same language, so we can communicate and play better.
"But what's important is what the team achieve and, if I need to keep scoring to help achieve our targets, I'm ready.
"Against Albirex, they have the best defence in the Cup and they still have not conceded, but I hope we win and I score in the process."
"It won’t be easy... But to help the team win a second League cup in three years would be superb, it would be very good and I’m more than happy to establish us as cup specialists."
- Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic