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Friday, August 17, 2007

THANK YOU TAWAU FANS


KOTA KINABALU: Rahman Zakaria salutes the Tawau fans by describing them as amazing for the overwhelming support they have given to the Rhinos in their 3-1 victory over Negeri Sembilan NAZA in the return leg tie of the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.

The well-deserved victory eventually saw the Rhinos march into the semi-finals after registering a 3-2 aggregate victory over their Super League opponents, who had won the first leg encounter 1-0 last week.

The undivided support from the fans right from the start of the game until the end saw the Rhinos clinch their last four ticket in injury time with Nigerian striker Charles Obi netted the winner.

But if not for the support from the fans, things could have gone otherwise, as with only two minutes remaining in regulation time, it was Negeri Sembilan NAZA that held the upper hand after Julius Orisrseweyinmi Ejueyitsi reduced the deficit for the visitors.

If the scoreline stayed, Negeri Sembilan NAZA could have turned out to be the victors on the away goals rule.

Brazilian Felisberto De Oliveira Jr put the Rhinos in front with two fine goals, with the first coming in the 42nd minute of the game before heading home the second in the 82nd minute.

The match played at the newly completed RM69 million Tawau Sports Complex field was packed to its capacity with the fans coming in as early as 6pm for the clash that only kicked off at 8.45pm.

For the record, tickets for the game (9,000) were sold out as early as at 2pm on match day, with thousands of fans crying for more tickets.

However, if the semi-final match is to be played at the same venue, New Sabah Times Sport learnt that more tickets will be on offer as the organiser of the historical match – the Safa Tawau Zone – believes the complex can accommodate more than just 9,000. They are looking at 15,000.

“On behalf of the Sabah FA, the team management and the players, I would like to say a big thank you to all the fans who turned up for the clash. You people are magnificent, and it is our great pleasure to dedicate this victory to the people of Tawau,” the Rhinos’ team manager said.

“Even when we were down, the fans never gave up their support, and thus this has helped the players mentally on the battlefield. I hope the first leg tie of the semi-finals will also be held in Tawau,” he added.

Commenting on the game, Rahman said: “It was a great game. The atmosphere was electrifying. The fans were seen flying the State flag with pride all around the field. I mean this is the kind of atmosphere we need.”

On their entry into the last four, Rahman said that he hoped the players would not feel that they were minors among the four semi-finalists.

“We are the only Premier League outfit to survive in the competition. Nevertheless, I hope the players will not look down on themselves. Now what we or they need to do is to stay positive and focus on our next battle,” Rahman said.

“Overall, I think everyone of them played their hearts out and with full commitment and dedication. Our Head Coach (Drago Mamic) has done a good job too and I’m really happy to see that the players were able to execute his game plan.”

The last time Sabah made it into the last four was back in 2004. They were also the losing finalists in 2003 and 2002 as well as in 1996.

But this time around, Rahman hopes that they will be in their fourth final appearance with an eye on the title.

However, before anything materialises, the Rhinos would have to overcome Perak – their semi-final opponents – before taking a shot at the elusive Malaysia Cup crown for the fourth time.

Perak marched into the last four after registering a 5-3 aggregate victory over Perlis, who squandered a two-goal first leg lead.

The other semi-final will see Kedah take on Terengganu. Kedah booked their final ticket with victory over Melaka while Terengganu got the better of Selangor.

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