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Thursday, August 30, 2007

MENTALLY PREPARED


KOTA KINABALU: Drago Mamic said he now has a decent squad that can take on any team … anywhere!

The Rhinos head coach while disappointed for not being able to guide the team to promotion to the Super League next season, is happy to see the progress the team has made since he took over the hot seat in November last year.

The Croatian said that despite not getting promoted, the team has progressed tremendously. And he credits the youngsters, whom he described will be an asset for the team in the near future.

He said that these teen Rhinos not only progressed in terms of playing, but they are also mentally ready for any battle ahead, and that includes the Malaysia Cup semi-final clash against Perak on Saturday.

Among the youngsters that have been making the grade under Drago’s reign are Zulamri Muhamad, Azrul Ejati Damsah, Radzi Hussin, Hardy Charles Parsi and Irwan Jamil.

“Now things have changed”, said Drago before declaring that the team has now gained respect from the other teams.

“We have changed the mentality of the players. For three years, Sabah found it difficult to win any away matches. But now we don’t fear any teams … be it away or at home. In fact this season, we won more matches away than at home.

“(Despite not getting promoted) I think we have made a good job this year because if we gain entry to the Super League, we will not be there to make up the numbers, but to give a shot at the title,” he said.

Drago admitted it has been a difficult season for them, having had to start the season with only 12 players who are really ready to face the challenge. He pointed out that it has not been the best of a pre-season preparation for the team.

Fortunately, he said that the young players showed personality and character, and this is the reason they slowly merged into a decent team.

He then cited tight fixtures, suspensions to key players as well as injuries, as the reasons for their poor showing in the Premier League.

Drago said their situation was worsened when the Rhinos were victims of some dubious refereeing.

Furthermore, he added that having had to play in three competitions, the Premier League, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup, doesn’t help their cause at all.

Unlike Kedah, Perak or Perlis, who have a big enough squad or rather quality to challenge for honours in all competitions, Drago said that Sabah just could not cope with with all the three competitions at the same time.

The Malaysia Cup is traditionally played after the completion of the Super League, Premier League and the FA Cup. But for this year and for the first time ever, it is being played in between the Super League, Premier League and FA Cup matches.

While not looking for any excuses, Drago said they lost the plot for the Premier League crown as early as the first round.

“We just don’t have enough quality in the team to challenge for honours in all competitions.

“But I’m delighted to see that the team keeps on improving and now we are in the Malaysia Cup semi-finals.

“In fact we had a few chances to finish second in the Premier League, but after we progressed, injuries to our key players as well as suspensions, saw us squander the chance.

Drago insisted that now they are on level terms, with most of the top teams in the country including Perak, Perlis, Pahang or even the newly crowned Super League champion Kedah.

The first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final will be played at the Tawau Sports Complex field on Saturday with the return leg scheduled for September 4 in Ipoh. The final is on September 8 with the venue yet to be decided.

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