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Geylang new import Branko Cubrilo seeks to emulate Kristic in S.League

Geylang's Daniel Bennett, Branko Cubrilo and Isa Halim
Geylang have reinforced their squad with the trio of Daniel Bennett, Branko Cubrilo and Isa Halim.

He took a pass from Gabriel Quak, turned his marker and rifled a shot past Syazwan Buhari before running back to his defensive position.

The same scene was played out numerous times as Geylang International went about their preseason training at Bedok Stadium.

Branko Cubrilo, 28, has been signed as the Eagles' final foreign import -- joining Yuki Ichikawa and Carlos Delgado -- for the new S.League season. And, already, he's left a huge impression on his head coach and teammates.

"We were deciding between Branko and another foreign striker and I could tell that he has the qualities that we need," coach Hasrin Jailani told ESPN FC.

"He is strong and can hold the ball up. In our friendly against Johor [Darul Ta'zim], he caused their defence a lot of problems which prompted us to confirm him as our final foreigner.

"Branko brings an added dimension to our team and I hope he can show his true qualities when the league starts this month."

Hailing from Croatia, the former Hadjuk Split striker was introduced to Geylang by Sabah FA defender Igor Cerina and renowned coach Nenad Bacina.

This being his first foray into professional football in Asia, Branko wants to emulate his close friend Miroslav Kristic, who plays for Balestier Khalsa.

"Igor and Bacina helped me to get a trial in Singapore," he said. "And Igor, especially, was telling me so many good things about Singapore football and now is a chance for me to try it for myself.

"I came to Singapore for a holiday in 2013 and always wondered if I would get a chance to play football here. I know many Croatians have played in the S.League like Igor, Marin [Vidosevic], Mirko [Grabovac] and Kristic, who have all done very well. 

"I've played against Kristic in the same division when we were younger in Croatia. He will always find a way to score so hopefully, I can produce the same results if not better. And I cannot wait to get on the pitch and play against him again."

Geylang's Safirul Sulaiman and Branko Cubrilo
Branko (right) with Geylang teammate Safirul Sulaiman at Bedok Stadium.

Despite being with Geylang for only two weeks, the 28-year-old forward knows that he must get the job done on the pitch if he wants to prolong his S.League career beyond a debut season.

"I can't say how many goals I am going to score but for me, most important thing is for the team to win," he said. "Whoever scores the goals to get us there is not important.

"Personally, I'm very grateful for the opportunity to play professional football in this beautiful and clean country. I just want to have a great season, score as many as I can and help the team go as high on the table. If I get another contract next year, that will be fantastic."

To achieve his personal target, Branko knows just what the Eagles need in order to avoid a repeat of last season's disappointing eighth place finish.

Veteran players like Nor Azli, Isa Halim and Daniel Bennett will be key in guiding Hasrin's team of young but talented fighters. It's a list that also includes Sahil Suhaimi, Faritz Hameed, Gabriel Quak and Brandon Koh.

Bennett, the former Warriors' captain, has already taken on the role of big brother to the entire squad. Branko says he is thankful to have the five-time S.League winner in his camp.

"Bennett has been very helpful since my time with the club," Branko said. "He picks me up for trainings because he know I'm unfamiliar with the place and you can see the players all respect him a lot.

"We have a very young squad but individually, they are very good players from what I see. It is very important to have these experienced players like Bennett and Isa to help the youngsters and even myself to work as a team and achieve the goal. If we can gel fast, maybe we can even challenge for the S.League title."

Geylang kick off their 2016 campaign with a tough away trip to Jurong West Stadium on Feb. 15 when they will face V. Sundramoorthy's star-studded Tampines Rovers. Former Arsenal and Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant make his competitive debut in the game after agreeing last month to play for the Stags in the 2016 season.

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