Singapore Premier League • April 27, 2018

Singapore Premier League Preview: Close friends Kraljevic, Grabovac do battle as Balestier host Warriors


Balestier Khalsa FC Head Coach Marko Kraljevic has a strong friendship with Warriors FC counterpart Mirko Grabovac.

SINGAPORE, 27 APRIL 2018Good friends and fellow countrymen Marko Kraljevic and Mirko Grabovac face off in opposite dug-outs for the first time as Balestier Khalsa FC host win-less Warriors FC at Toa Payoh Stadium in the only Great Eastern-Hyundai Singapore Premier League (SPL) game on Sunday evening, 28 April. The match will kick off at 5.30pm.

BACKGROUND Friendship and sentiment will have to be set aside for 90 minutes on Sunday as third-placed Balestier host third-from-bottom Warriors.

Their coaches Kraljevic and Grabovac are close mates off the pitch, having come a long way since facing each other as opposing players in the early days of the former S.League.

Kraljevic stayed in Singapore after hanging up his boots in 2001 and is now in his fifth season in charge of Balestier. Meanwhile Grabovac returned to the Lion City at the start of this year to take charge of the Warriors after spending the last decade coaching back in Croatia.

Despite being thousands of miles apart previously, the duo kept in contact via social media, with Grabovac recommending compatriot Miroslav Kristic to Kraljevic. The former NK Imotski forward turned out to be a hit with Balestier, hitting 21 goals in his debut season for the Tigers in 2015.

“I came to Singapore in 1999 and Marko had already played here for a few years then,” Grabovac recalled. “I remember him as a very good and skillful player.

“He’s a friendly man who wants to help people and he knows the football culture here. When we were in different countries, we still talk on WhatsApp about everything football and met each other a few times when I came back to Singapore on holiday.”

So far, it has not been a smooth return to the Warriors for club legend Grabovac. The 46-year-old, who won two SPL titles and one Singapore Cup with the uniformed outfit, is still waiting for his maiden win after three draws and one defeat.

Nonetheless, a gritty 0-0 home draw against Tampines Rovers FC last Saturday has given him confidence that streak will soon end.

“I don’t understand why in Singapore, people always put pressure (when the team isn’t winning)!” he quipped. “We have a new team and new coach this year, so it takes time. Football is not about three or four games. We’ll see again after half season or a full season.

“We’re playing better and better with each game; I can see the improvement in the players. We wanted to win against Tampines, but they are one of the best teams in Singapore with many star players so it wasn’t a bad result.”

On the other hand, Kraljevic is enjoying a fine season with Balestier so far with seven points from five games, but were dealt a blow after defensive midfielder Raihan Rahman ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in last week’s 1-1 away draw against Hougang United FC.

“We’ll miss Raihan, but we have to work something out in midfield with Huzaifah (Aziz) and some other young guys coming in – that’s life, we have to move forward,” the 52-year-old said.

“Me and Mirko are good friends, it’s just these 90 minutes which will separate the two of us. After the game, we will shake hands, go for coffee and talk about football as usual.”

DID YOU KNOW? Kraljevic and Grabovac actually scored in the same match during their playing days, back in a 1-1 draw between Tampines and Singapore Armed Forces FC (SAF FC, now Warriors) on June 10, 2000. Kraljevic gave Tampines the lead at Tampines Stadium, with Grabovac equalising ten minutes later.

TEAM NEWS Bar Raihan, Balestier have a full-strength squad to call upon for this game. As for the Warriors, French forward Jonathan Behe is back from a three-week layoff due to a hamstring injury and his return will boost their attacking options.

Balestier: LLWWD
Warriors: DDLDD

Balestier 2-2 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
Warriors 1-0 Balestier – Singapore Premier League
Balestier 1-2 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
Balestier 1-1 Warriors – Singapore Premier League
Warriors 1-1 Balestier – Singapore Premier League

Huzaifah Aziz – Balestier
In the absence of Raihan, the onus is on Huzaifah to step up in the middle of the park. Originally a wide player, the 23-year-old has flourished as a central midfielder since joining Balestier in 2017 and he will need to produce another big performance against Warriors midfield duo Ammirul Emmran and Poh Yi Feng.

Delwinder Singh – Warriors
After an indifferent start to the season, Delwinder stood up to be counted with a superb display against Tampines at centre-back to keep Khairul Amri and company at bay. That performance should be enough to keep the 25-year-old in the starting eleven as he looks to contain the threat of Keegan Linderboom, alongside club captain Kento Fukuda.

Balestier Head Coach Kraljevic: “I watched the Warriors a few times and they were close to winning those games. I believe their luck will turn soon. For us, the key to three points is to work very hard and make less mistakes. Results have been good for us and hopefully, we keep this momentum going.”

Warriors Head Coach Grabovac: “It’s a long season but we have to start winning games. Balestier is a good team with two tall foreigners (Linderboom and Vedran Mesec) and a lot of good local players; Marko has made very good selections for his team this year. Jonathan (Behe) has started practicing and I hope he can play very soon. We’ll have a lot more points if he is playing.”

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