Singapore Cup • September 26, 2014

Kraljevic: Place In Final Is Huge Achievement

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Written By: Kenneth Ho

Balestier Khalsa coach Marko Kraljevic has voiced how proud he was of his team after they secured the club’s first-ever RHB Singapore Cup final spot on Thursday evening.

Balestier did so by seeing off Tampines on penalties in the semi-final, after the game had ended 1-0 in extra-time to Balestier and left the aggregate leveled 2-2 after a two-legged tie. Tampines had won the initial tie 2-1 at Clementi Stadium.

Kraljevic was undoubtedly pleased with the feat, and explained that fans are witnessing a revival from Balestier now as the team’s key players are starting to return from injury.

This included Balestier captain Paul Cunningham, who scored the solitary goal in the 1-0 victory. The defender was making his first appearance in five months after undergoing surgery.

“For us, we are not a top club, for us to go to the final is a big achievement,” Kraljevic beamed.

“This is a small team, when we have players with injury, for us it is a loss. Park [Kang Jin], ten weeks, Paul, five months he was out. They come back at the best time and then we look good, we look strong.

“First half, it was just 50-50. We didn’t want to open the game, thing is it doesn’t work for us. We put Paul up, he scored the goal and after this penalty, and we won.”

Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam was also a standout in the game, where he made numerous saves. This included a one-on-one save during extra-time while making two penalty saves in the shootout before slotting home the winning spot-kick.

However, Kraljevic refused to focus on Zaiful’s performance, and instead asked that credit be given to his whole team.

“I think it is a team’s work, Zaiful did well, but who didn’t do well?” the Balestier coach added.

“Everybody did well, they are trying their best and this is a team sport. This type of the game, man-of-the-match will go to Zaiful, but we played as a team and as a result we made it to the final.”

Balestier will face either Home United or Brunei DPMM in the final, and Kraljevic said that both teams were equally strong, so he had no preference on who he would like to face.

For Tampines coach Rafi Ali, he was surprisingly calm despite admitting he was disappointed at the exit.

“It’s a penalty shootout, what would you expect. It’s always a gamble. Today it’s their day, tomorrow maybe it’s our day,” Rafi explained.

In addition, Rafi was satisfied with how his charges acquitted themselves by creating chances after chances, only to be denied by an in-form Zaiful.

Rafi revealed that it was partly the reason why he did not opt to make substitutions towards the end of the game and bring on fresh legs.

“I don’t see why I should change, they were doing well. If they were not performing, not creating, I would change the team,” Rafi added.

“Of course I am disappointed, we are out of the final, but again, credit must go to the players, they worked really hard and created lots of chances but we can’t score the goals, it just wasn’t our day.”

With the club still fighting for the league’s title, Rafi hoped his team would learn to put this crushing exit behind them in order for them to play well in the league.

“It’s not easy as players, especially when you lose out on a cup final or semi-final. I’m sure a lot of players will not be sleeping tonight,” the Tampines coach said.

“They are all seasoned professionals so I’m sure they will get it behind them and move forward the league.”