We are making history for Persija and for Indonesia, says Simic
Singapore: Persija Jakarta and their Croatian striker Marko Simic have enjoyed a memorable AFC Cup so far. Both know a new challenge arises with the Knockout Stage beginning on Tuesday against Home United.
Indonesia's Persija Jakarta have already broken a series of records in this year's AFC Cup - twice setting attendance records in the Group Stages - but the milestone that the club would most like to achieve is becoming the first Indonesian side to lift the continental title.
To do so, they will need to overcome several hurdles, the first of which being Singapore's Home United in the ASEAN Zone semi-finals with the first leg coming at Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday, before the return meeting on May 15.
The-AFC.com spoke to Persija's top scorer in the tournament, Marko Simic, to get his thoughts on the tie as well as his experiences of the competition so far.
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Hi Marko, we're now into the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone semi-finals, what are your thoughts on the match to come against Home United on Tuesday?
Each of the four teams that reached the semi-finals have deserved to do so, so I think we will have some very high-quality matches. The fact that we now go into a home and away decider will make them even more interesting.
For me, the knockout stage is totally different from the Group Stage: you have to be very focused and you don’t have much time or many chances to fix your mistakes. It's much more about tactics and concentration because sometimes just one goal could be enough to decide a clash.
Home United have shown very good performances in the previous ties, so let’s see who will be the best side that will win the match.
On a personal level, you've enjoyed a spectacular campaign so far and are currently joint-leader in the top scorers' table. Have you been surprised by how well you've taken to the tournament?
Yes, I’m among the leading scorers of the 2018 AFC Cup and I’m really honoured. The last couple of seasons I’ve been scoring a lot of goals, but I’m still working very hard to do even better. I’m very happy and blessed to be having such a good tournament so far. I want to thank every one of my teammates who helped me to score all these goals.
I always thought that I could do well because I have been very motivated since I started this AFC Cup adventure. The team is what’s important, though. We are doing very well, we are making history and we are making the people of Indonesia happy! We don’t represent only Persija, but all the country and we want them to be proud of us.
Do you have a favourite goal of the eight you've scored so far?
I think maybe it’s the second header against Johor Darul Ta’zim, the day when I scored four goals in the same match. My goal against Tampines Rovers was good too, but that one is the best for me.
How far can Persija go in this competition?
At the start of the AFC Cup, our goal was to get past the group stage, even though we knew it would be difficult to qualify. It was not an easy job, but luckily we achieved that target.
There are a lot of good teams left in the tournament. For example, the Iraqi and Jordanian sides are of a very good level, and Home United is doing very well, too. But I think that if we are able to play the same level of football that we have shown in the Group Stages, we could go very far in this competition.
And to conclude, how are you enjoying your time at Persija generally?
So far, I’m very happy at Persija and it was a great choice for me. I’m sure that, after this great experience in AFC Cup, this club will give me the opportunity to play in the AFC Champions League in the next year.
The Indonesian league this year is different than before: it’s a competition that has improved very much, and the level is rising every year. I think that, if it continues like this, it will become one of the best leagues in Asia.
Persija's performances in this year's AFC Cup, passing through the group stages, shows how much the level of the domestic league is improving.
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