Tigers can make history
Kraljevic believes Balestier can win their first S.League title with a good mix of youth and experience
We are the best team.
This is not a political party blowing its own horn in the hustings period.
The bold declaration comes from affable Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic, who talks up the Tigers' title hopes ahead of the last round of Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League action.
Balestier are in third spot, three points behind leaders Brunei DPMM FC, and both teams have played 17 games so far.
Still in only his second season as senior coach of an S.League club, the 49-year-old Kraljevic believes his Tigers are genuine title contenders.
"We are looking forward to be champions," declared the Croat.
"How many chances do you have in your life to win the league?
"We believe not one team are better than us."
Kraljevic's claim is backed up by an impressive record - if they beat fourth-placed Warriors FC at Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday, Balestier would be the first team to go an entire round unbeaten against nine league rivals.
To think that at the start of the year, after finishing seventh in the league and winning the RHB Singapore Cup last term, the man voted 2014 Coach of the Year did not even entertain thoughts of toppling the established order.
After all, pursuant to tradition, such title talk is usually reserved for bigger clubs such as defending champions Warriors FC, Tampines Rovers, Home United and Geylang International - the only four local teams to have won the S.League.
The former Balestier attacking midfielder, part of the 1996 team that recorded their best finish of third place, had also revamped almost the entire foreign-player slate and signed a clutch of new local players, who needed time to gel.
He said: "At the start of the season, I didn't think we would be challenging for the title.
"I thought we would fight for a top-half finish. But step by step, we have got ourselves in this good position."
Indeed, with Zaiful Nizam dependable in goal, Igor Cerina and Emir Lotinac forging a solid central defensive partnership, Tarik Cmajcanin pulling the strings in midfield and Miroslav Kristic banging in the goals, things have all come together for the Tigers.
Preaching hard work, the watershed moment for Kraljevic came on Labour Day, when they went to Bandar Seri Begawan and came back with a 2-1 upset victory over DPMM FC, snapping the Bruneian side's six-match unbeaten start to the season.
"When we beat DPMM FC in Brunei, we realised we can beat any team," said Kraljevic.
"Then, after we beat the top teams such as the 4-0 win over Warriors FC in the The New Paper League Cup, we started to have belief.
"We had changed more than half of our first team - we had four new foreign players (Cerina, Kristic, Cmajcanin and Robert Pericic) and new local players like Fadhil Noh, Hanafi Salleh and Ignatius Ang, and they needed time to gel.
"I feel we have a good balance. Our foreign players are in their prime and our younger players are learning from the seniors. It's a nice mix of youth and experience.
"Nothing happens by chance. Our boys have all been working very hard in training since Dec 15.
"They have got the character and the will to win. I'm really happy with them because they never give up."
Kraljevic acknowledged that making the step up from being credible opposition against the bigger guns to true title contenders has put a target on their backs, but insisted complacency will not set in as they continue to yield good results.
Even with defending champions Warriors FC losing steam - Alex Weaver's side have won just once in their last seven games - Kraljevic refuses to believe three points would come easy on Sunday.
"In this league, I don't think any team can be favourites against Warriors," he said.
"Just three games ago, they beat Tampines. It will be 50-50.
"But we believe if we continue to work hard, we can beat anyone and go on to be the new champions."
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