S.League: Ivancic eyes strong Warriors finish under new coach Bencherifa
Karlo Ivancic comes across as a steady head on young shoulders, despite having left his homeland for the first time in his career this year.
The Croatian midfielder took up an offer that "was like it dropped from the sky" from defending champions Warriors FC to move to Singapore as a foreigner in its Prime League team.
The 19-year-old soon impressed enough to be handed his debut in a TNP League Cup tie in July, where he assisted the only goal of the game.
He has gone on to make his Great Eastern Yeo's S.League bow, starting every game since that first match against Tampines Rovers. That is 14 consecutive matches and 1,230 out of 1,260 possible minutes, having only been substituted four times.
"I came here with only one thought and that was to give my best to be in the first team," he told ESPNFC on Saturday at Choa Chu Kang Stadium.
"I think I showed what I could do and I am not too surprised that I've played every game since.
"I settled really fast and I wasn't afraid of much. I knew that I would be the third Croatian here and I am happy with everything in Singapore."
Compatriots Marin Vidosevic and Miroslav Pejic provide him with familial support as Ivancic continues to improve with every game.
The next one happens to be on Monday night against Hougang United, a team whom he has a score to settle, after suffering the heaviest defeat of his Warriors career the last time they met.
"We got a red card early on and even though we made it 1-1, it was too hard to play [with ten men]," he recalled of the 4-1 loss. "In the second half, they were fitter and the goals just came.
"But of course, we believe that we can do better than them in this game and we are really looking forward to it."
Victory will end a run of two back-to-back losses and will be only their third in 12 league games. Six of those were losses and anything but a win against the Cheetahs will confirm the end of their title defence.
With contenders Albirex Niigata (S) and Tampines, along with leaders Brunei DPMM to face amongst their remaining five fixtures, Warriors could still shape the fate of the crown and Ivancic called for a strong end to the campaign.
"We really believe in these last five games, we can win all of them as we have a quality squad and I really think that it's important to start winning, starting against Hougang," he asserted.
Salim Moin's men are in a five-game win-less rut themselves, though they could be slightly better rested after Friday's game against Geylang International was postponed.
Ivancic confessed his desire to bump up his tally of one goal and one assist, while also adding that he is more comfortable playing in central midfield as opposed to the wide forward role he has been deployed in so far.
"I want to do my best to support my team-mates by linking the defence and attack," he said with a boyish grin. "Just put me in the middle, that's the best for me; I feel at home in that part of the pitch."
He might just get his wish under new head coach Karim Bencherifa. The former Tanjong Pagar United and Woodlands Wellington boss was unveiled on Saturday as the successor to Alex Weaver -- who left by mutual consent -- and Ivancic is looking forward to a new future.
"I believe I will play more often there from now on," he said. "I'm looking forward to next season as well. I feel great and happy but I still have to settle in in some other ways, so I feel like I can do much better next year."
Warriors FC Probable Lineup: Daniel Ong, Syaqir Sulaiman, Marin Vidosevic, Daniel Bennett (C), Irwan Shah, Emmeric Ong, Kevin McCann, Miroslav Pejic, Hafiz Rahim, Karlo Ivancic, Fazrul Nawaz
Hougang United Probable Lineup: Ridhuan Barudin, Faizal Amir, Kunihiro Yamashita, Tengku Mushadad, Lau Meng Meng, Nurhilmi Jasni (C), Atsushi Shimono, Carlos Delgado, Fareez Farhan, Diego Gama, Vuk Sotirovic