Yangon: In-form striker Stipe Plazibat is confident that AFC Cup debutants Hougang United can progress to the ASEAN Zonal semi-finals should they take points from Yangon United on Tuesday.
Ahead of the match in Yangon, the-AFC.com spoke exclusively to Hougang's hitman to get his view on the crucial Group F tie, his previous experiences of the AFC Cup with former club Home United, and his friendship with a Bayern Munich star.
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Hi Stipe, thanks for taking the time. What are your thoughts ahead of the upcoming AFC Cup match with Yangon United?
It's an important match for both teams. We need to take some points there if we want to progress to the knockout stage, and that's the goal we have in mind in our preparation for the tie.
Myanmar can often be tricky place to go and get a result, as you found out last time you were there with Home United at the 2017 AFC Cup (Home lost 1-0 to Yadanarbon). What do you remember from your previous experience there?
To be honest, it's not positive memories from the experience in Myanmar. I'd say I maybe played my worst game in the entire 2017 season! It was our first AFC Cup tie of the 2017 campaign and that probably affected my performance.
This year, though, you have begun the AFC Cup in explosive form with four goals in two matches. What do you credit this performance to?
I'd say it's due to the fact that I am very well prepared for the tournament this time, both mentally and physically. We started our pre-season very early, and I've been here from day one. I am also playing in the number 9 role, and I feel that is the position I can contribute the most.
At the 2017 tournament you were among the top scorers, how do you compare yourself as a player now to three years ago?
I think that I am a better player now than three years ago. I feel stronger and, of course, I am more experienced as a player which helps me to read the game better.
Home United went all the way to the ASEAN Zonal Final in 2017, how do you compare Hougang to that side? It's early still but can they achieve similar results in your opinion?
Well, in 2017 Home United had a lot of experienced players in the squad, more than Hougang with the club taking part in the AFC Cup for the first time. We will see where we stand after the ties against Yangon United, but I believe we have enough quality to progress to the knockout stage.
This is your second spell in Singapore, what made you want to come back?
I did not have positive experiences after leaving Home United and Singapore, experiences that I wouldn't wish on any footballer, so I wanted to come back somewhere where people respect me and where I feel comfortable.
We saw Bayern Munich star Ivan Perisic passed on messages of congratulations to you after your recent AFC Cup goals. How did you become friends with him? How often do you speak together and has he ever given you any footballing advice?
We become friends in the Hajduk Split youth academy, we are of the same generation, and we played together there for nine years. Since then, we remained close and talk maybe two to three times a month due to the time difference.
Usually we dont talk about football, but recently he did advise me to give more attention to my timing of runs and positioning, instead of simply running all over the pitch.
Do you have any targets for this season in the league and AFC Cup?
My targets are always to try win something for the club, and personally to be best version of myself.
Where that brings me we will see at the end of the year, but I don't want to put pressure on myself by chasing numbers as that distracts me from more important things: winning games.
And finally, we know you're a big fan of video games, especially football ones. When you play, which is the team you usually choose – why that team – and when you play as custom teams, who are your must-have players?
Yes, that's right. I'd say with custom teams, Neymar is my must-have player because he is so good in these games. If I play against friends, then I use Barcelona because I like them in real life.
Unfortunately, there is no Hajduk Split or Hougang United in these games, haha.
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