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Monday, May 07, 2007

FROM BOYS TO MEN


KOTA KINABALU: Rahman Zakaria has urged the Rhinos to continue fighting, insisting that the war is far from over.

“We are in the crucial stage of the season, and our fight (for honours) must go on,” the Rhinos’ team manager said.

“We are moving in the right direction. I must admit that we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.

“I’m proud and happy to note that the team has made tremendous progress. When you look at the team, they are getting better and better with each game. So now it is important for them to maintain the good momentum.

Rahman has every right to be in a flattering mood as the Rhinos are now on the verge of qualifying for the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals after notching a comfortable victory over Pahang on Saturday.

Sabah only need one more point in their remaining match away to Police on May 26 to cruise into the knockout stage no matter what the outcome of the other matches is – which means their destiny, is pretty much in their own hands.

They are also in the FA Cup quarter-finals, and are only two points behind second-placed UPB-MyTEAM, who occupy the last slot for promotion to the Super League next season.

And that is not all, as the Rhinos are also unbeaten in their last 10 matches in the Premier League and are currently on a four-match winning streak.

And Rahman attributed the Rhinos’ great run thus far not only to the players, the team management or the fans, but also to the Head Coach Drago Mamic.

Rahman said that the Croatian who was hired early this season has transformed the team into one that can be reckoned with.

“When we look at the team, early in the season, there were no star players or any big signings. But as you can see now, he managed to turn the team around, and to achieve what he has done thus far is quite a task, but he has managed to do it.

Sabah have played a total of 24 matches thus far in all competitions, and they managed to win 12, while the other matches ended in draws (8) and four defeats – one in the Premier League and another two in the Malaysia Cup.

With their deadly striking pair of Charles Obi and Prince Ativie Guy scoring goals like nobody’s business and having a solid defence marshalled by the ever reliable Ahmad Tharmini Saiban and Prince Eboagwu Etuwe it is only a matter of time before the Rhinos finally get the rewards they deserve.

But what is more encouraging to see is Drago’s boldness in giving the youngsters first-team action.

As seen on Saturday against a side that is full of experience – Pahang – comprising either current or former national players – Drago surprisingly played youngster Zulamri Muhammad in midfield alongside Rosdin Wasli.

And when Rosdin was forced to leave the field in the 33rd minute due to injury, Drago opted for Hardy Charles Parsi to replace Rosdin instead of seasoned campaigners such as Henry Soimpon, Burhan Ajui or Zainizam Marjan, who were all on the bench.

For the record, both Zulamri and Hardy are not natural midfielders.

Zulamri is a flanker and Hardy a defender. However, the two youngsters did pretty well, and of course were supported by the experienced lads around them.

Not many coaches would take the risk of fielding inexperienced players in a crucial match like this where Sabah had to win at all costs, but Drago took the gamble by opting for the unthinkable by fielding his trusted youngsters.

“He (Drago) has developed the team really well,” said Rahman.

“We must thank him for the hard work he has put into the team. On the part of the players, they too have been marvellous. They have been working pretty hard in training. And the good thing is that they are working as one big family which I believe will bring us success this season.

“But as I have said earlier, the show must go on,” he stressed.

Against Pahang, Sabah were the better side as they outclassed their opponents in all departments.

They took a well-deserved lead in the 9th minute through Charles Obi’s spot kick.

And they could have scored more goals in the first half if not for the misses.

However, Sabah managed to extend their lead through Prince Ativie Guy’s overhead kick in the 65th minute, before Khairul Shah Mamat conceded an own goal in injury time to help Sabah record a comfortable and well deserved 3-0 victory.

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