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Monday, July 14, 2008


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s quest for a place in the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals has ended!

The 1-3 defeat to Johor FC on Saturday kills whatever slim hopes there may have been.

Now what is left for the team is to play for pride in their remaining fixtures against Kedah and Police in the Group B challenge.

The defeat sees Sabah languishing fifth in the group on seven points.

Even if they win their two remaining fixtures and collect 13 points, it will not be enough for them to finish among the two best third-placed teams.

Group leaders Police and second-placed Johor FC are tied on 14 points, while Kedah on 12 points, followed by Kuala Lumpur with 10 points, while Penang languish at the bottom of the six-team standings on three points.

In addition to that, Police, Johor FC and Kedah have a game in hand over the Rhinos.

Rahman Zakaria finally concedes defeat as far as their chase for a place in the quarter-finals is concerned.

“It’s the end of the road for Sabah,” the Rhinos’ team manager dejectedly admitted!

“Police, Johor FC and Kedah are too far ahead in the table and the race for the two best third-placed teams does not favour us as well.

In Group A, third and fourth placed Negeri Sembilan and Selangor have already collected 13 points.

Reigning Malaysia Cup champions Kedah of Group B and Perak of Group C, both on 12 points with a game in hand, are likely to add to their points.

“We have to face the fact that we are out of the competition and to go out in the group stages makes it even worse for the team.

“Sabah have a reputation of being one of the toughest teams in Malaysia Cup and last year we made it to semi-finals … we are very disappointed and frustrated,” he added.

On Saturday, Sabah needed a victory to keep their quarter-final dream alive but found themselves trailing 0-2 in the first half.

After Khairu Kiman had put Johor FC in front in the 20th minute, Sabah were made to pay for some sloppy defending in the dying minutes of the opening half.

Mohd Azuwad Arip ran into the box and beat the offside trap, and he easily rounded goalkeeper Irwan Jamil to put the homesters 2-0 ahead.

Midway into the second half, the teams were reduced to 10 men, when Sabah defender Ahmad Tharmini Saiban and a Johor FC player got involved in a scuffle.

Despite that, Sabah reduced the deficit through Bobby Gonzales, a second-half substitute for Zainizam Marjan, when he burst into the opponents’ penalty box before firing low to beat Mohd Anis Faron in the 81st minute.

Sabah pushed forward to find the equaliser but left room at the back, which Johor FC took full advantage of.

A lightning quick attack set up a simple tap-in for Syaiful Sabtu to cement a 3-1 victory in injury time.

“It was just not our night but I’m still proud of the players who gave their all and fought hard in the past few matches even though the team were staring at the exit door,” he said.

Rahman also said the decision to call for a re-match against Kuala Lumpur was to serve as an eye-opener for referees to improve their performance.

“We are not doing it for our quarter-final quest but with the priority to lift the standard of refereeing.

“Let’s wait until after the FA of Malaysia has their meeting on Monday (July 14),” he said.

In the match at the Likas Stadium, Sabah lost 1-2, but the referee’s blunder in failing to notice Kuala Lumpur playing with 11 men despite a sending off irked the Sabah FA officials.

Sabah will next face Kedah at the Darul Aman Stadium on July 15, before completing their Group B fixture at home to Police on Aug 2.

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