10 April 2012

An Easter gift for Simunic

Jason Thomas

Sunday, April 8, 2012

DPMM FC'S slim 1-0 win over Young Lions on Friday night was extra special for Vjeran Simunic (pic).

The team's head coach was resigned to a goalless draw against the Singapore League's (S-League) bottom side until Azwan Salleh's stunning free-kick deep into injury time handed the hosts all three points to cement their status at the top of the league.

"I told my players to give me a present because I'm alone for Easter my family is in Croatia so now I'm very happy," he smiled.

"I knew their goalkeeper (Shazwan Bukhari) is small so we trained for free-kicks ... I told Azwan to shoot on target if he had a chance and it was a very good free-kick.

"I think we showed that we deserved to win and the boys deserve to be on top.

"Now we're a little tired mentally because we did not expect to be fighting for the top spot at the start of the season.

"Before we were the hunters now we're the hunted!

"It's easier to go to the top than to stay at the top. Now the whole league wants to push us down and they expect us to lose. But destiny is in our hands," he added after Friday night's victory at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas.

The Croatian refused to blame his players for failing to break down their opponents earlier, instead insisting that the Young Lions the Singaporean national Under-23 team were punching well above their weight.

After a lacklustre first half, Simunic told his players to close the Young Lions down better in the second period and imagine that "they were playing against a top team like Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) FC or Tampines Rovers FC".

To the casual observer, the tie hardly looked like one between the league leaders and the basement dwellers though Simunic had always maintained that the Young Lions were capable of pulling off an upset.

And, indeed, DPMM FC fans will remember how their side needed another last minute goal against the Young Lions, this time by striker Abu Bakar Mahari, to salvage a 1-1 draw in their debut S-League match in 2009.

"We've been unbeaten here for a long time, but I knew that one day we would lose ... Maybe tonight, maybe the next night," said Simunic.

"The Young Lions are a good team and now I think my players trust me when I warned them it would be a tough game.

"I was worried about wingers Sherif El-Masri, Benjamin Kristoffersen Lee and striker Jonathan Toto. They are very good players and they will have a good career with the Young Lions especially El-Masri, who is in the Canadian Olympic team," he added.

Though he refused to blame Shazwan for the goal, Young Lions handler Robin Chitrakar felt his team should have gone away with a share of the points.

But despite being rooted to the bottom of the table, the former Singapore international believes that his players have a promising future ahead of them.

Starting with four Under-21 players and ending with two 17-year-olds midfielder Anumanthan Kumar and defender Tajeli Salamat Chitrakar has every reason to be optimistic.

"It's painful for us ... Definitely disappointing," he said.

"The boys performed well and were organised, but they didn't take their chances. Coming here is not easy, but we played better than I expected.

"We lose like this (set-pieces) everytime, but I don't think it's because we're not mentally strong. The boys have prepared well and we're the youngest team in the league so we definitely need time.

"The referee didn't give the foul which led to the free-kick, it was the linesman who called it. But those things happen in football, you never know (what can happen) until the final whistle," he added.

DPMM FC's next game is against Tanjong Pagar United FC at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium on Sunday.

Meanwhile, at the Bedok Stadium in Singapore last night, Tampines moved up to third in the league after an Aleksandar Duric hat-trick inspired them to a 5-1 win over Geylang United FC to put them tied on points with Harimau Muda (Malaysian Under-23 team) with 14 points, but on top because of better goal difference.

Tonight's match will see Gombak United FC host Hougang United FC at the Jurong West Stadium in Singapore.The Brunei Times

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