Tigers And Warriors Do Battle At Toa Payoh
Balestier Khalsa vs Warriors FC
(Tuesday, 28 February, 7.30pm, Toa Payoh Stadium)
Written by: Shawn Lim
A youthful-looking Balestier Khalsa side will open their 2017 Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League campaign by welcoming nine-time league champions Warriors FC to Toa Payoh Stadium on Tuesday night.
A less-than-stellar performance in the league last year saw them score only 23 goals and the Tigers have make a switch in strategy in terms of player recruitment. They have not signed anyone from an Eastern European country this season and only brought in players under the age of 30.
This move breaks away from a tradition that has seen a Balkan ply their trade at Toa Payoh Stadium almost every season, with the likes of Emir Lotinac, Goran Ljubojevic and Igor Cerina among the few who have made a lasting impact.
Instead, Balestier has recruited closer to home this season, bringing in the trio of Aung Kyaw Naing, Nanda Lin Kyaw Chit and Kyaw Zayar Win from Myanmar to join new local signings Ashrul Syafeeq, Tajeli Selamat, Jonathan Tan, Huzaifah Aziz and Raihan Rahman.
The new faces, together with existing players like Zaiful Nizam, Fadli Kamis and Sheikh Abdul Hadi, ensures that Tigers coach Marko Kraljevic has a blend of youth and experience at his disposal.
Speaking to the official S.League website, Raihan was unable to hide his excitement at playing with his new Burmese teammates in competitive games after a few training sessions with them.
“They are very attacking players and they will give us more bite upfront. They are still young, but I think they will work hard and I hope they will be consistent for the whole year,” said the 26-year-old.
Being a mentee for most of his career at former clubs Garena Young Lions and LionsXII, Raihan will now play the role of a mentor to his younger teammates as one of the senior players at Balestier.
The hard-tackling midfielder is relishing the new task and responsibility of being a leader and is keen to put his experience of being mentored to good use.
“As a senior player, I will respect them as a player by proving myself on the pitch. I will not, and I refuse to be one of those players who shouts at younger players all the time,” said Raihan.
“I rather be respected than feared, but once in awhile, if I see that there is a need to talk to them, I will pull them aside to talk and motivate them.”
While Balestier are banking on youth and speed this season, Warriors have dipped into the transfer market for experience in a bid to revive the good old times after finishing seventh in the league last year.
The Choa Chu Kang-based club have also failed to win the S.League title since 2014 and are keen to change that by recruiting established veterans like Baihakki Khaizan, Shahril Ishak, Firdaus Kasman and Jordan Webb.
Raihan is relishing the battle with his former teammates Shahril and Firdaus in the middle of the park and warns them not to expect any favours from him, at least until after the final whistle.
“Firdaus is a great player because he has so much quality. It was a pity he was unable to showcase much of it last year at the Young Lions, but I think he is back to his best,” explained Raihan.
“Even though he is not at his peak anymore, Shahril is still dangerous because of his passing. We may all be friends and while they have taught me so much at LionsXII, I still have a job to do.
“If I have to go for the tackle or interception, I will go for it, no questions asked. After the final whistle, we are all friends again.”
Suspensions: Daniel Tan and Ahmad Syahir (Balestier Khalsa)
Balestier Khalsa - DLLWL
29/10/16 Balestier Khalsa 1-2 Ceres-Negros FC (Singapore Cup)
26/10/16 Balestier Khalsa 2-0 Brunei DPMM
22/10/16 Tampines Rovers 2-0 Balestier Khalsa
15/10/16 Balestier Khalsa 0-5 Home United
01/10/16 Hougang United 1-1 Balestier Khalsa
Warriors FC - WDWLW
25/10/16 Warriors FC 5-1 Hougang United
14/10/16 Geylang International 2-1 Warriors FC
30/09/16 Warriors FC 2-0 Albirex Niigata (S)
22/09/16 Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Warriors FC
26/08/16 Warriors FC 5-2 Garena Young Lions
Head to Head (S.League)
22/09/16 Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Warriors FC
20/05/16 Warriors FC 1-1 Balestier Khalsa
11/03/16 Balestier Khalsa 1-1 Warriors FC
13/09/15 Warriors FC 4-2 Balestier Khalsa
07/05/15 Balestier Khalsa 1-2 Warriors FC
Photo: Balestier Khalsa Football Club