Simunic: Wasps would rather die than lose
Photography by Aundry Gan
DPMM FC will be looking to cement their position at the top of the Great Eastern-YEO’S S.League table when they take on ninth-placed Hougang United on Saturday evening, with the visitors eager to end a run of four losses on the trot.
Hougang had prepared for the current season in positive fashion, going on a long unbeaten run in pre-season that stretched into the first three games of the competition proper.
Losses against Balestier Khalsa and Home United were quickly forgotten as they put in strong performances against Tampines Rovers and Woodlands Wellington, yielding four points along the way.
But they proceeded to lose all four of their April matches, leaving them slipping down the table and facing a big task against DPMM.
The home side have not dropped points on their Bruneian turf since a 2-2 draw in their opening game against Tampines back in February, recording a win against every opponent at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium since then.
Despite his side’s impressive record and his opponents’ dismal form, however, Wasps head coach Vjeran Simunic refused to play up his side’s label as favourites at the pre-match press conference on Friday.
“Tomorrow will be a hard game,” he told media gathered at the press conference.
“I have watched Hougang’s last four games, and they could easily have won all of them!
“There are currently five good teams fighting for first position, so we are taking it game by game. Every game is a World Cup final to us.”
Such is the importance Simunic has placed on preserving DPMM’s home record and remaining in top spot, that he morbidly claimed death would be a more fitting event than to drop points.
“It would be better to die on the field than lose a game at home; that’s how strongly we feel about our home record,” said the Croatian.
“We must ensure we are at our best tomorrow when we play Hougang, and we will need the help of the fans to do so.”
DPMM’s de facto team manager Ali Haji Momin remarked that, despite having no fresh injury concerns, there were a few players who were walking on disciplinary tightropes.
Brazilian defender Tales dos Santos is one yellow card away from an automatic one-match suspension, while five players, including captain Rosmin Kamis, are on two yellow cards so far.
“We are free of injury, but we have to be careful about picking up yellow cards,” he told sleague.com.
“We are not used to being in this position at the top of the table, because normally we are climbing the ladder to the top. It is a hard position to maintain, and we hope our players will give 100% against Hougang tomorrow.”
Hougang’s Croatian head coach Nenad Bacina, who incidentally comes from the same city as Simunic, was clear about Hougang’s intent to be the first team to record a win on Bruneian soil this season.
Yet the former SAFFC defender stressed a need to remain realistic and retained some respect for his opposite number.
“There is no secret, DPMM are a main contender to be champions this year, and their points total is double ours,” he observed.
“We have to be realistic and accept they are the favourite team tomorrow and will be playing in front of their home crowd.
“However, we are in confident mood despite our four defeats in a row. We have played well in each of the four games, but did not come out of them with the points.
“As the coach, I have to be the one who says we can come here and win if I want to convince my players and make them believe they can do it.”
Hougang are currently in a mid-table dogfight, with Gombak United and SAFFC, the two teams immediately above them in mid-table, playing each other in a concurrent fixture in Singapore.
Victory will see them rise up to eighth, although the title appears almost certainly beyond them, even with less than half the season gone.
Bacina has set more touchable targets for his team, however, hoping to equal or exceed their form in recent seasons.
“We are trying to achieve the same result as last season, which was sixth or seventh,” explained the 40-year-old.
“But of course, if we can, we will try to do better and climb the table!”
Bacina highlighted DPMM’s dead-ball play as a main threat to his side, and singled out veteran Brunei international Sallehuddin Damit for special praise.
“Sallehuddin gives the team spirit, and that is his most valuable asset,” he remarked.
“They are very good in set-pieces. They have Azwan Salleh, who is an excellent free kick taker, and of course Tales dos Santos, who is very tall.
“We are expecting a good fight, but we are prepared.”
Cheetahs team manager Lincoln Thia similarly emphasised his team’s determination to break DPMM’s proud home record.
“Every team coming to Brunei will want to win, and in our case it is no different,” he underlined.