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Friday, February 24, 2012

Explosive affair

New Sabah Times
BEFORE THE CRUNCHER … Datuk K. Rajagopal (right) hugs Sabah head coach Justin Ganai during the joint press conference yesterday.
KOTA KINABALU: Sabah football is set to add a new chapter in their history book as our Super League side takes on the national senior team in a friendly match at the Likas Stadium tonight.

This is believed to be the first time that the State squad is taking on the national team. The match is scheduled to kick off at 8.15pm.

And coaches of both sides – Malaysia’s Datuk K. Rajagopal and Sabah’s Justin Ganai – predicted that the historical tie is going to be an explosive and exciting affair.
“Sabah is a strong team and I want to see good football. It will be a fantastic occasion and I expect it to be an entertaining match. They can play aggressive, but not too robust,” the national coach said during a joint press conference held at the Le Meridien Hotel here yesterday.

On his line-up Rajagopal said that he would assess the players before naming his squad for the clash.
“There are new players in the squad and some have just joined the team after playing for Harimau Muda against Japan (in the Olympics qualifier on Wednesday). I will have to look at them because they may be tired but substitutions are unlimited, so hopefully all the players will get the chance to play.
He was also impressed with the treatment they received from the host – the Sabah FA.

Rajagopal said the FA has been very professional in dealing with the friendly tie, which according to him is good for the game.
On another development, K. Rajagopal said he is always on the lookout for outstanding players in the Malaysian League to be roped into the national squad, and Sabah is no exception.

He said he had been monitoring several players by keeping in touch with Sabah chief coach Justin Ganai.
“One of the Sabah players is in the national squad,” he said, referring to flanker Shahrudin Yakup who arguably has been Sabah’s top performer in the Super League thus far.

“I’ve been monitoring his progress in the league and have been in contact with Justin to find out more about him.
“I was impressed with Shahrudin … but not only him of course because there are other good players in the Sabah squad.
“I will continue to call up players who have shown good performance and form for their teams in the league.
On the other hand, Justin has vowed to parade his strongest squad to take on the national side.
“This is the national team that we are talking about … they are strong but we will be ready for them. Not only will it be good for the team’s progress but also for the fans … they will be able to see top Malaysian players in action,” said Justin.

He added that the match will give the players exposure and experience that could be crucial in their Super League campaign.
For the record, in their last friendly, the national side thrashed Kelantan 5-0.
And Justin said they will try their level best not to get thrashed by the Rajagopal boys.

Meanwhile, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) vice-president Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal, revealed that the national squad is here not just to play in the friendly match.
“We brought the team to Sabah not because our plan to go to Saudi Arabia failed to materialise … but we did have plans to come here.

“In fact, this is our ‘turun padang’ mission to go to the grassroots to look for young players apart from exposing the current players in the national squad.
“We know Sabah have produced many national footballers in the past and we believe there are many talented players in the State.

“Hopefully Sabah can continue to produce good players like in the 80s era where they had James Wong, Hassan Sani and Peter Rajah, who were key members of the national team,” said Subahan who is also the Harimau Malaya team manager.
“We will continue with the ‘turun padang’ mission and maybe we will go to other States such as Sarawak in the future,” he added.

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