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Friday, January 20, 2012

Ganai's birthday wish
by Ian De Cotta

SINGAPORE - The Sabahans are gracious hosts and known for their hospitality.
But for 90 minutes at least, that will be put aside when Sabah hosts the LionsXII in tomorrow's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu.
And Sabah coach Justin Ganai knows his side are out to give him a belated birthday present in the form of three points over V Sundramoorthy's men.
"I only saw Singapore's match against Kedah," Ganai, who turns 56 today, told Today in a phone interview from Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
"They are a good passing side and play well together. They seem to be having some problems in attack, but when you play well, the goals can come.
"So I will not say it will be an easy match, it will be fought hard. But my boys know that it is my 56th birthday tomorrow (Friday) and they want to give me a nice present."
The 35,000-seater Likas Stadium usually attracts about 10,000 fans, but that number is expected to swell with the visit of the LionsXII, particularly as Sabah emerged the losing side the last time they hosted a Singapore side - a 3-1 loss in 1994.
The pain of that defeat is still etched in the minds of Sabahans, and they will be buoyed by the current injury problems faced by the LionsXII, with forwards Agu Casmir (thigh) and Khairul Nizam (ankle) doubtful, and Khairul Amri set to be out for up to three months with an ankle problem that requires surgery.
Ganai is regarded as a hero of sorts in Sabah.
He took over the squad from Australian Gary Phillips midway last season, when they were teetering in the relegation zone in their return to top-flight Malaysian football after six years in the lower division.
It was the sixth time he had to take over the side since 1996 and after nursing them back to health, Sabah are now a side to be reckoned with.
But Ganai knows his reputation will count for little, and stressed that losing to the LionsXII this Saturday is simply out of the question.
"Whatever name they want to call themselves, the LionsXII is still Singapore's national team and beating them is always sweeter than beating any other Malaysian sides," he said.
Although the LionsXII have not made a strong start, Ganai remains wary of them.
But he is also confident in his own team, which includes Australian forward Michael Baird and his compatriot Brendan Gan.
Also back in the side is Bobby Gonzales, who spent the 2011 season with rivals Sarawak and found the net 18 times with them.
They have so far lost their opening match 2-0 to Felda, beat Sarawak 2-1 and drew 0-0 with MSL leaders PBDKT T-Team FC in Kuala Terengganu on Saturday.
But Ganai believes Sabah is beginning to show what they are capable of and expects them to better their target of a top-five finish at the end of the season.
"We were unlucky in our match against T-Team in Terengganu, but we are getting better with each match," he said.
"We've got a good attacking side with Brendan providing the spark in dictating the attack from midfield, Michael is proving to be a thorn to opposing defenders and Bobby is looking dangerous. So I think against Singapore we will get a result."

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