15 January 2012

Bring on Chiangrai Utd

Jason Thomas

Sunday, January 15, 2012

PROBABLY noone understands the importance of DPMM FC's charity match against Thai Premier League (TPL) side Chiangrai United FC on Wednesday night more than Rodrigo Gral.

The Brazilian striker has become DPMM FC's fourth and last signing, with the only professional football club in the country now in their final stages of preparation for their second Singapore League (S-League) campaign on Feb 9.

The journeyed 34-year-old hitman who started his career together with ex-Barcelona and former AC Milan star Ronaldinho in the Gremio youth team in the 1990s believes that Chiangrai will be stern test of the team's character.

Having used to lace up for Japanese outfits Jubilo Iwata and Yokohama Marinos, Gral is well-versed in Asian football.

His first interview with The Brunei Times since the club announced his signing last week, Gral also took the opportunity to express his delight in playing for the 2009 Singapore League Cup champions.

"We've all worked hard to prepare for the league ... (so) it's a good test for the team to see how strong and competitive we are," said Gral after yesterday's training session at the Jerudong Mini Stadium in Jerudong.

"I've had no problems fitting in the team football is the same in every country. This is a very good club and the players have all helped me adjust.

"I've got no family so they are like my family. My family is the team and Simunic (coach Vjeran Simunic) has really helped me settle.

"I also like playing with Osman (striker Osman Basiru) and Ronaldo," added Gral, who played for his country at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Though Brunei might have it's own Samuel Eto'o Simunic once compared striker Abu Bakar Mahari to the Cameroonian legend this was the first time talk had turned to Ronaldo.

"You know ... Ronaldo. The No 22 (Shahrazen Said)," said Gral.

"I call him Ronaldo because I think they have the same face. And yes, the Brazilian Ronaldo not the one from Portugal," he clarified with a grin.

The game at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas will be the team's biggest test since Sept 29, 2009 when they faced off against Tampines Rovers FC in a S-League match which ended 2-2.

Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had to dismiss DPMM FC the next month because of the FIFA suspension on Brunei, causing the club to release all its players.

Now that the Sultanate is back in international football, and DPMM FC are back in the S-League, local football fans have been buzzing with excitement ahead of the Feb 9 kick-off.

The long layover was a fact that Tales Ricarte dos Santos was quick to point out.

"The team haven't played against a professional club for two years so the friendly is good for the group since we'll get used to playing together and moving around in our positions that's very important," stressed the defender.

"We need to play hard games like these because the league is starting next month.

"My English is not very good, but everyday, I'm learning a new word and understanding how my teammates play ... Whether they like to get a pass fast or slow, things like that," added the Brazilian.

Another player who is relishing Wednesday's match is Ivan Jerkovic, the Croatian midfielder who was forced to leave the club after the FIFA suspension but has since returned to a team he never really stopped thinking about.

Jerkovic, who also has experience playing in Indonesia, warned that Thai teams shouldn't be taken lightly.

"I've known Thai teams from before and I can say that they are at the top level in this region," said Jerkovic, who turned 33 on Friday.

"We must be compact and, as usual, play on the counter-attack.

"We all have to stay behind the ball because they are good technically and can keep possession for 90 minutes," he added.

Though Basiru might not have had much to say, his comments are nothing new.

"We need friendly games like these because we need to play against stronger teams," said the striker.

"The friendlies that we usually play, we win a lot," added the Ghanaian, referring to the spate of large wins over local sides that DPMM FC have had to contend with before this.

Proceeds from the tickets, which are priced at $5 each, will be channelled to the Humanitarian Aid Fund for Flood Victims in Thailand and Cambodia.The Brunei Times

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