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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rajagopal salutes Sabah

New Sabah Times
VETERAN MIDFIELDER … Zainizam Marjan tries to get the better of his opponent during the Sabah-Malaysia tie at the Likas Stadium on Friday
KOTA KINABALU: It was a night that many would not want to forget as we saw the Likas Stadium almost packed to its capacity on Friday night where the national side escaped with a narrow 1-0 win over our Super League outfit Sabah in a friendly match.

The environment was quite electrifying with local football fans giving their fullest support towards making the historical occasion a memorable one.
There is no other word other than a Big Thank You to the football fans for what they did.
This is a proven fact that Sabah football is still pretty much alive, at least if we are to judge on the support that the friendly tie received!

Head of State Tun Juhar Mahiruddin was among the more than 25,000 fans who turned out for the clash, which was a warm-up match for the national side ahead of the international friendly against the Philippines on Feb 29.

National Head Coach Datuk K. Rajagopal must be surprised not only with the turn-out from the crowd, but also on the field, as his side struggled to overcome Sabah throughout the tie.
In fact, it could have been an embarrassing night for them, if Sabah had been more clinical in their finishing, but Rajagopal when met shortly after the tie was still satisfied with his team’s performance while admitting that it was not the best they could do.

While not wanting to look for excuses, he sees fatigue as well as loss of key players contributing to his team’s inability to perform at their best.
“I could not field Safee (Sali) from the start because I didn’t want to take the risk as he suffered an injury a day earlier. (Striker) Nor Shahrul Talaha withdrew from the team because of injury.

“With them around, I’m sure the fans could see for themselves the national team’s true strength.
“Apart from that, I could see that the players were tired and did not play to what I expected of them. We did not move the ball quickly and aggressively enough.

“Luckily it was not an international game. Nevertheless, it was good for us to get going … we need one or two more matches before we can see the momentum.
“There are two days more to train and I know how the Philippines play. They are very physical with many players playing abroad,” said Rajagopal, before adding that the Sabah game had certainly given them what they need to prepare for the international friendly.

Sabah under chief coach Justin Ganai performed tremendously well and created as many chances as their opponents, including a disallowed goal from Rozaimi Abd Rahman.
“Sabah was very physical and played aggressively as what I had expected. They piled the pressure with continuous attacks at us.

“We want to see how the (national) players respond when under immense pressure. It was a narrow win but overall I’m happy with my team.
“I’m sure too that the fans got exactly what they expected … an exciting and interesting game.
Rajagopal went on to say that, if Sabah is capable of playing the way they did on Friday, he sees no reason why they (Sabah) could not challenge for the title in the Malaysian League.

“Both sets of players tried their best … I am very impressed with the efforts put in by Sabah.
“All the (Sabah) players performed very well. This is normal when a national team takes on a club side or State team … they tend to have the spirit and extra motivation to do well.

“For Sabah, I hope the players will be able to maintain their consistency. With such a performance I believe they can be strong contenders in the Super League,” he said.
Amar Rohidan scored the winner for the national side with a deflected shot 10 minutes from time.
Meanwhile, Justin said that he was happy with the efforts put up from his charges.

He said that a similar performance could have seen them still competing in the FA Cup competition.
Misfiring Sabah were eliminated in the first round of the FA Cup to Premier League outfit Kuala Lumpur Sime Darby.
“It was a game that we should have not lost. If only we played like tonight (Friday),” said Justin.
Justin also revealed that consistency was what the Sabahawks needed as well as much rest in between matches.
“I found out that last season we played much better after a long break but not when playing every three days. The players were tired mentally and it contributed to the inconsistency.

“There is not much we can do about the match schedule but with training, yes. We can change the volume of training sessions, especially when it involves us playing every three days. This is to ensure that they remain fresh and ready for their next game,” said Justin.

Inconsistency has left Sabah languishing 10th in the 14-team league after eight games and was ousted by Kuala Lumpur Sime Darby in the FA Cup first round.

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