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Friday, April 04, 2008

DEFENCE DILEMMA


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah is faced with a defence dilemma as they go on the road again to take on second-placed Kuala Muda Naza in a must-win battle in a Premier League tie at the Darul Aman Stadium tonight. They will be without Bosnia-Herzegovina central defender Dragic Dalibor, while his partner Ahmad Tharmini Saiban is also doubtful. Dragic is serving his automatic one-match suspension after collecting his third yellow card in the two-all draw against KL Plus FC, while Tharmini was substituted at the half-hour mark due to an injury in the same match.

With Dragic out and Tharmini doubtful, there is no regular central defender left in the team. Skipper Rosdin Wasli, who used to be utilised in central defence in the absence of any of the two, is still recuperating from injury, thus giving the Rhinos’ chief coach Drago Mamic to tinker on his replacement. However, Tharmini was part of the squad that left for Alor Star yesterday, while the return of tough tackling left-back Mohd Munir Amran from suspension is a big relief to the team.

The lanky Munir could be the man that Drago will count on to marshal the Rhinos’ backline alongside Wong Sai Kong or possibly Henry Parsi. He could also drop playmaker Mohd Nafuzi Zain to play in defence or bank on the inexperienced Hardy Charles Parsi.

Another player who made the trip to Kedah is Englishman Jamie Phoenix, who missed the Rhinos’ last game due to injury. New signing Georgian striker Kokhrei Dze Irakli is also in the team. The rest of the players are available for options. “We have to face the reality that this is a game that we cannot afford to lose if we want to keep our promotion hopes alive. “We are in a position where we cannot even afford to end our remaining games in draws, including this tie (against Kuala Muda Naza). “At the moment we are facing what could be described as a do-or-die battle … and it will be the same for the remaining of our fixtures,” the Rhinos’ team manager Rahman Zakaria said.

“It was quite a knock after the draw against KL Plus. But then again I think we are pretty much in the race for promotion. There are another six games left to play … and football is a funny old game and things can happen. “From now on, consistency will be the key to which teams will finish in the top two or three spots at the end of the season. “I firmly believe that teams that show consistency until the final fixtures of the league will have the last laugh,” Rahman said. The Rhinos will be going into the game with an unbeaten record of nine games in the league. Their last defeat in the league competition was the 1-0 home loss to PKNS on January 28.

However, in all competitions, they lost 2-1 to Police in the FA Cup second round, first leg tie late last month. However, they managed to redeem their pride by booking a place in the quarterfinals after notching a 4-3 aggregate victory following their second leg 3-1 victory over the same team. Sabah currently occupy fourth spot in the standings on 34 points – 10 points behind leaders KL Plus. Kuala Muda Naza are two points behind the leaders, while Kelantan on 38 points are third. But both KL Plus and Kelantan have played a game more than Kuala Muda Naza and Sabah.

SABAH SQUAD THAT LEFT FOR ALOR STAR YESTERDAY

Irwan Jamil, Wong Sai Kong, Hardy Charles Parsi, Ahmad Tharmini Saiban, Kokhrei Dze Irakli, Hisamuddin Othman, Zuraindey Jumai, Jamie Phoenix, Zulamri Muhammad, Mohd Munir Amran, Mohd Nafuzi Zain, Chow Chee Wing, Eddie Gapil, Salvester Sindeh, Henry Parsi, Zainizam Marjan, Harold John, Bobby Gonzales, Mohd Radzi Hussin

TONIGHT’S FIXTURES

Kuala Muda NAZA vs Sabah (Darul Aman Stadium – 8.45pm) KL Plus FC vs Shahzan Muda (MP Selayang Stadium – 8.45pm) PKNS FC vs Melaka (MBPJ Stadium – 8.45pm) Kuala Lumpur vs Proton FC (KLFA Stadium – 8.45pm) Johor PG vs Armed Forces (Tan Sri Dato’ Hj Hassan Yunos Stadium – 8.45pm) Kelantan vs Harimau Muda (Sultan Mohd IV Stadium – 8.45pm)

PREMIER LEAGUE STANDINGS

P W D L F A GD PTS KL Plus FC 18 14 2 2 41 15 26 44 Kuala Muda NAZA 17 14 0 3 35 19 16 42 Kelantan 18 11 5 2 44 24 20 38 Sabah 17 10 4 3 33 17 16 34 Johor Pasir Gudang 17 10 3 4 31 16 15 33 Felda United FC 18 6 4 8 22 24 -2 22 Harimau Muda 18 6 3 9 22 25 -3 21 Shahzan Muda 17 5 3 9 21 34 -13 18 PKNS FC 18 4 5 9 21 28 -7 17 Melaka 17 5 2 10 20 29 -9 17 Kuala Lumpur 17 3 5 9 21 29 -8 14 Proton FC 18 4 2 12 19 43 -24 14 Armed Forces 18 3 0 15 22 49 -27 9

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