Voices From The Ground: RHB Singapore Cup; Balestier Khalsa FC (Singapore) vs Nagaworld FC (Cambodia) - A Glorious Defeat?

Balestier Khalsa FC supporter John (left) and a friend at Toa Payoh Stadium last night.
Photo: Chris Peng

Chris Peng
The Unofficial S.League Podcast

Voices From The Ground - Despite a rather demanding schedule, I made my way to Toa Payoh Stadium as I didn’t want to be starved of local action for the next nine days. 

The match was supposed to have taken place the day before but thanks, I mean no thanks, to the God of Lightning, it was postponed to last night. It was a double edged sword. On one hand it meant that i was able to provide some coverage of this game despite not being around yesterday. On the other hand, it meant that a lot of fans who should have witnessed this spectacle weren’t able to. 

I understand that a healthy cluster of Burmese and Cambodian fans attended the game the previous night but the match failed to take place. The Burmese fans were there in support of Balestier Khalsa as their roster featured three of their own countrymen as were the Cambodian fans, who are known to be equally fiercely supportive of their countrymen. The postponement must have been disappointing for the fans as some of them must have made special arrangments to be there on Wednesday night. 

Alas, when the rescheduled match took place last night, there was no more than a small cluster of Burmese and Singaporean fans who flew the Balestier flag proudly while the away stands were sparse and devoid of Cambodian fans. Kim, a Boeung Ket fan whom I met on at Choa Chu Kang on Monday, was the sole Cambodian fan in attendence and he didn’t have too much to say about the match as he knew next to nothing about Nagaworld FC. His presence to cheer on his countrymen was the loudest thing he could have said without actually saying anything. I am sure he would have been somewhat proud of his countrymens’ showing last night.

Nagaworld started the match with a bang and they were aided by the suspect defending of the home side as the Tigers failed to close the visitors down with adequate pace and precision. Too often, the Cambodian side was creating havoc down the flanks and presenting chances on a platter to their foreign striking duo, Athuheire Kipson and George Kelechi. 

The duo gleefully converted two of these chances before Hazzuwan Halim scored the first of his two goals to half the deflicit. The two magnificent Africans were not to be denied as they combined well to provide an assist for Sos Suhana to make it 3-1 and fans of the Tigers and the neutrals were starting to get really worried as no one really wanted to witness another 9-3 massacre. Thankfully, Nagaworld weren’t as good as Home United and Balestier weren’t as bad as Brunei DPMM during that infamous match in the previous week. Nevertheless, the speedy and muscular foreign duo did give Nagaworld a real platform to grab a convincing victory. 

However, the coach in Balestier's stand had other ideas. Marko Kraljević always has fresh ideas and while they didn’t always work out, it almost did last night.

Perhaps the coach saw enough in Hazzuwan's performance in the first half and spoke to inspired him during the break, enabling the speedy midfielder to carry on the good work he accomplished in the opening half. 

Hazzuwan marauded into Nagaworld's box with an enterprising attack, forcing a Nagaworld defender into handling the ball and enabling Raihan Rahman to bang home a penalty to reduce the deficit to 3-2. 

George Kelechi scored his second of the night shortly after to restore their two goal cushion but Hazzuwan, clearly Balestier’s man of the match, wasn’t content to let the Nigerian forward steal all the positive vibes, scoring easily the goal of the night for his second when he sent a stupendous shot which was destined for the top corner with the keeper’s despairing dive not equal to it. 

There were dubious moments toward the end of the game, notably when the Nagaworld goalkeeper went down with four instances of cramps. Balestier continued to press and were clearly on the ascendence but failed to add to their three goal tally and finally succumbing to a 4-3 defeat. 

A defeat is always a bitter pill to take but this bitter pill was tinged with sweet spots for me. Hazzuwan essentially scored two goals and created one. For a team that is crying out loud for a striker, Hazzuwan almost single-handedly fulfilled all of their creative needs. Considering that they had only scored one goal in their previous games, this game could have been a complete farce. However, the fact that they were able to score thrice in retaliation spoke volumes about their resilience tonight. Hazzuwan had a star performance and the goals that they've scored has rendered their loss a glorious one. 

Coach Marko will be able to take a lot of encouragment from this match. If they are able to attack like this and defend better, they may be able to condemn ex-champions Brunei DPMM to finish beneath them at the end of the season. That will be quite a feat and who's to say that Hazzuwan can’t carry on his blazing form with Raihan and Hanafi Akbar in his team?

Full time Interview with Balestier Khalsa fan John

Chris ( C ): John, any first thoughts?

John ( J ): I am still disappointed as they lost their focus frequently. Some of them did okay but the rest need to improve.

C: When Balestier went 2-0 down, we were actually worried of a heavy hammering. To Balestier’s credit, they did manage to mount a comeback in the second half but sadly it wasn’t enough. So who would you think contributed the least to the team in view of tonight’s defeat?

J: I think that we tried to create chances tonight but our strikers are a problem.They are not good enough. I think that we need to hire a striker. I think that our number 24 (Hazzuwan Halim) did really well. He created alot of chances.

C: An old school striker in the mould of (former Balestier Khalsa player) Miroslav Krištić?

J: We tried to use our number 7 (Aung Kyaw Naing) but he’s not a striker, he’s more of a right-sided player.

C: A false number 9, someone to receive the ball, but Aung isn’t really a striker.

J: He tried to cross the ball but no one backed him up, he’s all alone.

C: If you were Marko, what will you do? Sign a striker? Hypothetically, if you can sign any one striker from the S.League, who would you sign? He can be someone who played in the past or a current player.

J: I only supported Balestier this season due to my countrymen so I'm not sure about the players who played for Balestier in the past.

C: Sure, what about the current players in the S.League?

J: It will have to be Albirex’s number 10 (Tsubasa Sano), the current top scorer.

John’s friend interrupts enthusiastically: 15 goals! (John’s eye gleams)

C: So if you had your Burmese players supporting Sano, you will score a lot more goals?

J: Absolutely! (eyes dancing with enthusiasm) A big difference!

C: Coach Marko has noticed the problem, perhaps he will try to sign someone. It’s difficult, Balestier is not a big club and his hands may be tied.

J: Marko has to do something right now! (looking earnest) We have been on a downward spiral for the past 3 to 4 games and it’s bad for both the club and its supporters.

C: Yes, they won two games earlier on and faltered from that point onwards.Maybe they had some luck and some form for the two victories, after that their true standard meant that they were doing poorly again, but as we said, it’s hard without strikers. I do feel sympathy for Marko.

J: When i started watching them, initially iI felt that they don’t know how to play football. (!) After that they improved, perhaps due to better team work. They have been losing games but generally only by 1 goal, for example against giants Home United.

C: It was a great result

J: A good sign! (nods enthusiastically)

C: If iIwere to ask you to rate the percentage of their play, between a scale of 0 to 100, 0 being abysmal and 100 being God-like, how would you rate your team?

J: Like i said, early on they were really bad.

C: Bad as in 0?

J: Kind of.

C: When they won games and improved, about 50?

J: Yah, yah. (deep in thought)

C: Currently they have dropped again?

J: Yah yah, too much winning perhaps. (?!) 30-35 perhaps.

C: From a neutral perspective, for a team without a striker to score 3 goals, it’s quite a feat. It may be a loss but it feels like a positive loss. After going 0-2 down, it could have been really ugly.

J: The Cambodians are playing really well. They know how to pass and create openings. They may be able to compete with the likes of Home United.

C: Ultimately its the Singapore Cup and your countrymen are playing in it so there must be quite a bit for you to be proud of. It was a respectable scoreline and hopefully Marko can be inspired by it and will examine his goals. His team’s third was a beauty. A goal that anyone will be proud of, even someone much vaunted like Home United’s Song Ui-Young. As fans you need to support him.

J: Hopefully Marko can do something.

C: Maybe he can change something? You guys may have three Burmese Internationals but they are not regulars. Maybe a change will be good? I know that as a Myanmar fan, it’s not a good feeling to criticize one of your own, but sometimes the figures don’t lie.

J: Understood. (deep in thought again)

C: (pushes on) So among the three players, who is doing the poorest?

J: Honestly, it’s number 10. (Nanda Linn Kyaw Chit)

C: So if you can replace him, is it a good thing?

J: With a player from Myanmar or?

C: Anywhere! As long as the team can be improved. Football is a cruel game, Marko’s job is on the line. He needs to defend his position.

J: That Albirex player! (eyes glinting with joy, he must have seen a few of Sano’s specials)

C: Sano. Unfortunately reality doesn’t work that way but let’s look forward to Marko’s efforts to improve his team and give the rest of the league a good fight.

J: A new striker... (mutters under his breath)

C: We know, Marko has been telling that to us every game. It would seem that the Burmese players are under alot of pressure but as foreign players, it’s natural for fans and management to expect them to do better than the locals. They are being paid more and they need to do better. Don’t feel too bad, at least you got to enjoy three goals. use the International break to refresh yourself and come back again.

J: Thanks alot!

C: Thanks, John!

This gentleman was a man of few words when I first met him at Jalan Besar Stadium. Other than calling an on-side goal offside, he didn’t say too much. Sadly for him, his side fell to another defeat today. He was once again disappointed but I felt that perhaps he should see the light of the day and embrace the positivities tonight. His team may not have defended well tonight but showed way more attacking verve than their last league game against Geylang International. 

He’s spending precious hours after his work to watch his team in action and perhaps it would better if he could see the silver lining around the dark clouds. Nonetheless, I saw the vocal side of him today and his varied and expressive emotions certainly made our little interview a rather entertaining one. Thanks, John!

Full time interview with Balestier fan Salleh

Chris ( C ): Hi Sir, I am from the S.League Podcast. How did you find the game?

Saleh ( S ): It was very exciting!

C: The second half?

S: Yes, it’s way better! (smiling as if a child has been handed his toy)

C: How did you find Balestier’s goals?

S: The goals we conceded were mistakes! (realising that I was referring to the goals the Tigers scored) The third goal was very nice!

C: Was it the best goal among the seven for you?

S: Easily so, very nice goal!

C: Balestier is not known to be a high scoring team, hence for them to have scored thrice must be great for you.

S: I feel that Balestier was over confident. (?!)

C: Would you agree with me ifI said that perhaps the defense could have done better while the attack did a good job?

S: Err..

C: Just wondering about how you feel, no rights or wrongs.

S: (Starts to scream and cheer frantically as the Tigers make their way down the tunnel).

At that point I left him to his chanting and I bid him farewell.

Two fans, one club, one result. John only expressed disappointment at the loss generally while Salleh was able to enjoy the goals they’ve scored and showed plenty of unrestrained joy and support for his boys. 

Will quietly contemplative John or cheerful and supportive Salleh go home the happier of the two fans? Is the cup half empty or half full? I leave it to you to decide.

All copyrights © 2017 are attributed to the respective contributors above.