Preview: Kitchee v Balestier Khalsa

Places in the knockout stage are still on the line when Kitchee FC host Balestier Khalsa in a crucial Group F clash in the AFC Cup on Tuesday.

It’s down to the wire in Group F as just three points separate the top three teams, with New Radiant already eliminated at the bottom.

Second place Kaya FC travel to Maldives to play New Radiant at the same time as the clash in Hong Kong. For Kaya FC, a win would see them advance, though a draw could also be enough.

Kitchee FC are in the driving seat to finish top in the group, but Balestier Khalsa will be hungry for a win as it will put them into the knockout round for the first time in history.

The Hong Kong club have been the better of the two clubs in recent times, only suffering one loss to go with their three wins so far in the AFC Cup.

However, that loss was to Balestier Khalsa, with Zulkiffli Hassim’s strike in the first half being the only difference between the two teams that day.

Despite this, Kitchee coach Alex Chu is confident that his side will get the job done and book their spot in the last 16.

“We need to get a victory, and we believe we will, so that we can advance to the Round of 16,” Chu told the official AFC website. “Balestier Khalsa has a good defence so we’ll try to play on the offensive to take all three points.”

Kitchee FC have been impressive on the domestic front as they beat league leaders Eastern 2-0 on Saturday to extend their winning streak to six games. Despite their win over Eastern, Kitchee still trail them by one point on the Hong Kong Premier League standings after 16 games.

Meanwhile, Balestier Khalsa started their AFC Cup campaign with a draw and a win, before back-to-back losses against Kaya FC set them back.

Despite their less than ideal start, Marko Kraljevic’s men bounced back to earn a 3-0 win over New Radiant last time out to set themselves up for a chance to qualify for the last 16.

Domestically, the Singapore club have been woeful and were thrashed 6-0 by Albirex Niigata FC on Friday, leaving them second from the bottom with six losses and one win from their ten games.

While Balestier Khalsa’s domestic form is nothing to be proud of, Kraljevic is optimistic that his side will take down Kitchee for the second time.

“We all know tomorrow will be a tough game as Kitchee is one of the stronger teams in the East Asia region of the AFC Cup,” Kraljevic said. “We having nothing to lose, though, and we will try our best to beat Kitchee again.”