(Photo Credit :Albirex Niigata Singapore FC)
By Marvin Gold
The pre-match interviews revealed two teams who knew each other very well and had a clear idea of their strategy for the night. Albirex Niigata identified the threats of the direct approach to Shuhei Hoshino and Sime Zuzul as well as the qualities of Richard Krajicek in transition. Balestier Khalsa's head coach Marco Kraljevic spoke about the need for his side to be defensively solid - a continuation of a theme from pre-season when he framed his team’s targets as reducing their goals conceded per game (Which was how the match turned out last night at the Jurong East Stadium)
The visiting Tigers took pride by going into the half time break goalless and drew some positives from leading the statistics of shots on target. However, the broadcast statistics does not cover possession and number of long balls played. At times, the play resembled a textbook secondary school's match!
The first half was bustling yet uneventful. For Albirex, Nikesh Melvin Singh stood out for matching the industry level of Balestier’s Fadli Kamis. Fadli provided much of the drive on Balestier’s right flank in many meaningful moves. The visitors had shots on target from expected threats Shuhei Hoshino, Hazzuwan Halim, Ensar Brunjevic and Krajicek. However, those did not seriously threaten Takahiro Koga’s goal.
After the two teams returned from the half time break, BKFC went into game management mode. They were content to let Albirex have the ball and sit all 11 players in their own half. This would have been interesting for their former players now with Balestier; Shuhei Hoshino and substitute Gareth Low who entered the play on the hour mark.
There was little entertainment for the fans until the 75th minute when Sime Zuzul came on for Faizal Raffi. Sime’s introduction brought some impetus to the Tigers and also gave their defence a chance to recover from chasing passes all night. Sime was involved in one of the outstanding moments of the match when a another long ball was sent over to him with space to run into. Takahiro Koga reached the ball first and cleared it with a superhero-like diving header. Despite this, you have to wonder what could have been the impact on the game, if Coach Kraljevic had made this substitution earlier.
In the 87th minute, the fans finally got some decent action. Kiyoshiro Tsuboi and Mahiro Takahashi combined on the right flank to send a low cross driven into the box. Ryoya Taniguchi got on the end of the cross, but his shot was blocked. The ball spilled to Yu Tokiwa who blazed it over as the score remained goalless.
After the final whistle, Kraljevic expressed relief at the point gained from the outing. But he also rued the fact that his boys were sometimes too tired from chasing the ball and lacked the final touch when the half chances arrived. He was very happy with the hard work they put in and is looking forward to the international break to allow for recovery.
Post match, Albirex were happy with the clean sheet, but not satisfied with the draw result. They also praised their opponents for having a well organised defence. The White Swans were happy with the chances they created, but just couldn't convert and are now looking forward to improve on that.
Overall, Albirex would see this as 2 points lost considering their domination of possession and positive play. But it's an encouraging point earned for Balestier Khalsa going into the international break, 2 weeks to recover and perhaps review if the playing style that brought them this point yesterday, is truly deserving of the players they possess in their squad.
(Match Scores and Standings by Football Association of Singapore)
Edited by Raj Kumar
Marvin Gold became a Singapore football fan, after being dropped during a Selection Trial for a youth team, when he was 15! Since then (1996), he's been following the SPL (or S.League) since its inception 25 seasons ago. And he's been in love with the local game over the years, so much so that he just can't get enough of it!
Follow us on Telegram for more news and updates.