Balestier aiming to challenge for S.League title

Club chairman S. Thavaneson has set the bar high for new coach Marko Kraljevic, who believes his team are capable of matching any side in the league
They have one of their best-ever seasons last year. Now, Balestier Khalsa are looking for a tilt at the S.League crown in the upcoming 2014 campaign.

Club chairman Thavaneson Selvaratnam made the bold assertion at the Tigers' pre-season press conference on Wednesday morning at the Jalan Besar Stadium, where new coach Marko Kraljevic and marquee signing Goran Ljubosevic were unveiled as well.

Balestier finished fourth in 2013, their highest position since third place in 1996 and won their first major silveware in the form of the League Cup. They also clinched third spot in the Singapore Cup, and Thava has called on his side to do better this year.

"I am not going to beat around the bush; I think we will challenge for the title," he stated.

"We will go for it; we do not have the financial muscle of a club like Home United or Tampines Rovers, but I think that we’ve got the determination and the brains."

Thava singled out the above duo as the strongest opponents, but also warned they would have to beat the so-called lesser clubs if they are to mount a genuine title charge.

"If you take the top six teams and compare the results against each other, I think we’ll be somewhere in second," he explained. "This is why I say there is no point in playing well against the top teams and fumbling against the bottom [ones]. You must pick up maximum points there."

Former player Kraljevic, who returned to take the reins at his former team at the start of the year, looked unperturbed at the high bar set for him.

"I am not getting any pressure, I think the S.League is a very nice league!" he jested.

"I feel that the guys did very well last year, but I think they can do better [this season]. I think we are able to challenge anybody in the league."

Captain Paul Cunningham believes aiming to win the league is a "natural progression" for the club.

"When I joined the club, we were competing against the likes of Geylang United and Hougang United, now we are up there with Tampines and Home United," he said.

"This year, with the quality and unity we’ve got in the dressing room, there’s nothing stopping us. If we don’t achieve what we want, it’s on us."

Former Croatia Under-21 striker Ljubosevic, who has played for local giants Dinamo Zagreb back home, hopes to help fire the club to glory.

"I am very satisfied for what I’ve seen, I think this is a very good club," he stated. "As a target striker, I depend a lot on the team; if we play attacking football, I think I can do well."

The 31-year-old is joined by centre-back Emir Lotinac, 26, as Balestier's two new foreign imports and Kraljevic is pleased with the latter's addition as well.

"He’s a class defender from the top division in Serbia; Chelsea bought Nemanja Matic, who played in this league," he pointed out.

"His left foot and Paul’s right foot [will be a] top combination. I think we are very lucky to get him, he’s at a beautiful age to come and play the best soccer in his life."

In fact, the 48-year-old is confident he has a title-winning side.

"As coach, I am very lucky with what I have," he asserted. "I have seen them these [past] six weeks with my eyes and I think I have the best footballers."

Balestier will start their campaign on February 23 against the Courts Young Lions at Jalan Besar Stadium.