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Saturday, March 29, 2008

DRAGO’S WINNING COMBINATION


KOTA KINABALU: Rahman Zakaria believes they have a “winning combination”. The Rhinos’ team manager hails the chief coach Drago Mamic for turning the team into a formidable side. Rahman said while Drago’s “magic” seems to be working well, on the other hand the players have managed to execute and convert his plans during matches. “So far so good … we are pleased with the way he coaches the team. We are also happy to see how the players have responded. “It seems that we have a winning combination here. It is our hope to see this continue until the end of the season,” said Rahman. He then congratulated the Croatian and his players for a job well done.

“He (Drago) certainly deserves a pat on the back, and the same goes to the players,” Rahman added. Drago, who is into his second season, guided the team to an eight-match unbeaten run in the Premier League before being humbled 2-1 by Police in the first leg of the FA Cup second round.

However, they made amends on Thursday as they showed the Cops the exit door after registering a 3-1 second leg victory to march into the quarterfinals 4-3 on aggregate.

However, Rahman was quick to remind the team from being satisfied with what they have achieved thus far, including their feat of advancing into the FA Cup last eight.

“It is still too early for us to celebrate. The good work must continue because from now on things will get a lot tougher,” Rahman said. The draw for the FA Cup quarterfinals will be held in the national capital today (2pm). The other quarter-finalists include reigning champions Kedah, Selangor, Terengganu, Felda United, Melaka, Pahang and Kuala Muda Naza.

The first leg of the quarterfinals has been slated for April 8, while the return leg on April 22. To a question, Rahman admitted that it was a big gamble by naming Georgian striker Kokhrei Dze Irakli in place of the injured Brazilian Andre Scotti Ossemer, Sabah’s leading scorer with eight goals, ahead of the FA Cup date with Police. But Rahman was glad it paid off handsomely.

“It was a gamble that we needed to take,” he said, citing that the decision was made in the best interests of the team. Rahman also explained that Andre was dropped not because of his performances, but due to his injury. “He is facing six weeks lay-off due to injury on his thigh and with us facing crucial Premier League matches – against the top four teams in the standings – we need to work on something because we want to have the best squad for those matches.

“And we thought Kokhrei is our solution because he has been brilliant in training. “The FAM’s (FA of Malaysia) rule states that we can replace a player who is injured and we decided to do just that after much thought. Rahman also explained that Andre was still part of the team saying “he is only rested”. It was Kokhrei who inspired Sabah to victory by netting a brace in his debut.

It took Kokhrei only two minutes to open his account for Sabah, before scoring his second from an indirect free-kick in the 68th minute. Stand-in captain Salvester Sindeh scored the other goal for Sabah in the 13th minute, while former Rhino Sanjos Sundawat netted for Police in the 48th minute.

Sabah could have added a fourth, but attacking midfielder Jamie Phoenix failed to cap an outstanding performance with a goal, failing in a one-on-one situation late in the game.

Despite the Rhinos’ fine run, Rahman said that they will take one match at a time and that now they would switch their focus back to the Premier League with leaders KL Plus their next visitors at the Likas Stadium on Sunday.

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