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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rhinos could end up empty-handed

Kota Kinabalu: Sabah's 4-1 aggregate loss to Pahang in Tuesday's FA Cup quarter-final second leg match in Likas may see the Rhinos end the season without any silverware.

Going into the match trailing 3-1 from the first leg in Kuantan a fortnight ago, Sabah had no answer to Pahang's import striker Redouane Barkaoui's first half goal which turned out to be winner. The Moroccan's 19th minute strike effectively hammered the nail into the coffin of Sabah's FA Cup dreams this season.

Throughout the 90 minutes, Sabah were virtually outclassed in every department by the far more organised Super League side and if the Rhinos did have a chance of scoring it either went wide or was comfortably saved by Pahang's goalie Mohd Syamsuri Mustaffa.

To be fair to Sabah, playing in slippery conditions and with the pitch far from suitable for football, no thanks to the erratic weather the State is experiencing at the moment also hampered the Rhino's.

In such conditions both teams struggled to string up decent passes and the players too had a tough time manoeuvring the ball. It was no wonder then that both teams for the most part of the match employed a long ball approach with the midfielders pumping crosses into the penalty box.

Even the inclusion of three forward players in the form of Georgian Irakli Kokhreidze, Brazilian Andre Scotti Ossemer and national player Bobby Gonzales failed to bring the desired effects as support from the midfield was sorely lacking.

Throughout the first half, Pahang was the more superior side and had the lion's share of opportunities in front of goal while Sabah on the other hand had only two, both of which were off target.

In the second half, Sabah did most of the attacking but were denied by their poor finishing as well as Syamsuri, who made a couple of close-range saves, mostly from headers.

Pahang on the other hand were content to run down the clock and relied on their counter attack that almost provided them with a second goal. In the 81st minute Pahang were awarded a penalty after referee K. Ramachandran had adjudged Sabah's Dragic Dalibor to have handled the ball, but luckily for Sabah, Pahang's Tariq El Jannaby ballooned his spot kick sky high.

With their exit from the FA Cup and with the Premier League crown out of reach, Sabah's last hope of a silverware lies in the Malaysia Cup which is expected to kick-off later this year.

Sabah will now turn its attention to their Premier League match against Proton FC on Friday to be played at the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council Stadium and with only three games remaining Sabah's best possible finish is fourth as they are 10 points behind third placed team Kelantan.

The Rhinos currently lie in fourth with 40 points after 21 matches from 12 wins, four draws and five losses.

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