Balestier Khalsa go top of Group F after upsetting Kitchee in AFC Cup
Singapore's Balestier Khalsa sprang a surprise by upsetting Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC 1-0 in the 2016 AFC Cup Group F clash on Tuesday night.
A first half goal from Zulkiffli Hassim was enough to separate the two sides in front of 1,048 fans at Jalan Besar Stadium.
Fresh off a 1-0 win against Yuen Long in the Hong Kong Premier League over the weekend, Kitchee arrived full of confidence, dominating the first 30 minutes against the S.League side.
Lam Ka Wai, Sham Kwon Keung and Rufino Segovia all fired straight at Balestier goalkeeper Zaiful Nizam, before Ghanaian-born Hong Kong international Christian Annan curled his shot just wide of the right hand post from an acute angle.
Zaiful was then called into action again as he tipped Emir Lotinac's sliced clearance from Lo Kwan Yee's right wing cross onto the post.
A minute after the half hour mark, Balestier conjured up an impressive counter-attacking move and managed to break the deadlock against all odds. Fadhil Noh received a superb cross-field ball from Miroslav Kristic on the right before squaring it across the six yard box for an unmarked Zulkiffli who simply could not miss from that distance.
It could have been even better for the Tigers on 38 minutes when they were awarded a penalty after Kristic was brought down by Wang Zhenpeng inside the area. But the Kitchee custodian redeemed himself by diving to his right to keep out the former's penalty.
After the break, Annan lashed over a couple of efforts while former Atletico Madrid forward Rufino saw his 25 yard free kick smothered by the alert Zaiful.
Balestier had another excellent chance to double their lead on 65 minutes when they produced a neat counter-attacking move. But first half hero Zulkiffli was unable to keep his composure in front of goal this time round.
Despite Kitchee's late onslaught, there was no way past the solid Balestier backline, led by Lotinac. The only meaningful chance fell to substitute Harima Hirokane, but the forward's deflected shot was superbly tipped over by Zaiful to ensure the three points go to the home side.
With Philippines' Kaya FC beating Maldives' New Radiant 1-0 on Tuesday night, Balestier now top Group F with four points from two matches while Kitchee drop a spot to second.
"Of course I never expect us to be topping the table, but now we are," said Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic. "Everyone worked so hard today so I have to say fortune favours the brave.
"We expected Kitchee to keep possession. If we do so, we're going to lose the game so I had to play counter attacking football. We did that and the hard work paid off."
Kitchee counterpart Alex Chu agreed that Balestier's stout defence was the difference between the two teams.
"They played very defensive... we kept trying to open up their defence, but we couldn't," said the interim coach. "We created many chances, but just couldn't clinch the goals.
"Then from one mistake, we conceded and could not come back. Another thing is perhaps the temperature and humidity in Singapore are very different, that's why my players felt difficult to play today."
Balestier Khalsa: Zaiful Nizam (GK, C), Fadli Kamis, Emir Lotinac, Sheikh Abdul Hadi, Hanafi Salleh, Fadhil Noh (Syafiq Zainal 56'), Shah Hirul (Hazzuwan Halim 76'), Gary Loo (Jamil Ali 58'), Fazli Ayob, Zulkiffli Hassim, Miroslav Kristic
Kitchee SC: Wang Zhenpeng (GK), Lo Kwan Yee (C), Kim Tae-min, Li Ngai Hoi, Tong Kin Man, Huang Yang, Ngan Kok Fung (Cheng Chin Lung 70'), Lam Ka Wai, Sham Kwon Keung (Harima Hirokane 65'), Rufino Segovia Del Burgo, Christian Annan (Law Tsz Chun 74')