Singapore Premier League • April 6, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Balestier Khalsa FC vs Albirex Niigata FC (S)


Raihan Rahman and his Balestier side will face an imperious Albirex.

SINGAPORE, 6 APRIL 2018Champions Albirex Niigata FC (S) face a tricky task in their quest to make it two consecutive wins in the Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL), as they visit Toa Payoh Stadium to face Balestier Khalsa FC on Sunday evening, 7 April. The match will kick off at 5.30pm.

BACKGROUND Different year, same old Albirex – that was the consensus amongst the local football fraternity as the White Swans edged Tampines Rovers FC 2-1 to lift the season-opening Great Eastern Community Shield.

The Albirex express is showing no signs of stopping after completing a clean sweep of domestic silverware for the past two season, despite another massive overhaul of the squad with just two players retained from 2017.

Veteran goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa was his usual assured self, while new captain Wataru Murofoshi was in total control in the middle of the park.

New forwards Taku Morinaga and Shuhei Hoshino displayed good chemistry upfront, which perhaps stemmed from their time together at Ryutsu Keizai University.

Next up for them are Balestier, a side in the process of rebuilding after two straight seasons at the lower end of the table.

The new-look Tigers side – including new foreign forwards Keegan Linderboom and Vedran Mesec – showed brave resistance to keep Home United FC at bay in their season opener on Wednesday night, before conceding the equaliser on 77 minutes and eventually losing 3-1.

Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic will take heart from the encouraging display as they face the mammoth task of taking down mighty Albirex next.

The White Swans have won the last eight head-to-head encounters against the Tigers and are on a 22-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretches back to July 2017.

TEAM NEWS Both sides have a clean bill of health for this one. Albirex’s Singaporean starlet Adam Swandi could be in for a starting berth after making his debut as a substitute, while Balestier may well bring 2017 Young Player of the Year Hazzuwan Halim back into the starting eleven.

Balestier: WLLWL
Albirex: WWWWW

Balestier 0-3 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
Albirex 2-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
Balestier 0-3 Albirex – Singapore Premier League
Balestier 0-1 Albirex – Singapore Cup
Albirex 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Cup

Keegan Linderboom Balestier
Balestier’s main problem last season was scoring goals as they endured the entire year without a recognised forward. Things have changed this term, with the recruitment of former Waitakere United man Linderboom.

The 1.88m New Zealander showed the club what they were missing in 2017 as he made a nuisance of himself on his SPL debut, earning a penalty and converting it himself in the process.

Taku Morinaga Albirex 
Who says size matters? The shortest player in the SPL this season at 1.53m, Morinaga may be diminutive in stature but makes up for it with his intelligence and tenacity upfront.

With a goal and an assist on his debut, there is surely more to come from the 22-year-old, who is nicknamed “The Little Giant”.

Balestier midfielder Huzaifah Aziz
: “Knowing our capabilities individually and as a team, it was disappointing result against Home. But it was a morale-booster, given that we led them for such a long time in the game.

“We still need time to gel with the two new foreigners, but I have a good feeling they will give us something extra upfront this season. I’ve seen Albirex’s first game but it’s not enough to determine a team based on one game. We just have to go out with the right game-plan and stick to our individual jobs to take maximum points.”

Albirex forward Shuhei Hoshino: “I’ve played with Taku (Morinaga) from high school and eight years have passed since we became teammates. I just knew that he would give me the pass to score the (last-minute) goal (against Tampines).

“It was a pleasant feeling to win a trophy and the three points in our first game. For the next game, I will keep trying to do what I have practiced during training. If we can take advantage of all the chances we create, we will win.”

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