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Friday, February 12, 2016

Challenge begins!

By FRANCIS XAVIER Francis@newsabahtimes.com.my
READY … Simunic, (left), together with his key men, Marco and Igor, (right), at the airport yesterday.
 KOTA KINABALU: This is going to be an intriguing season for the new-look Sabah Rhinos as they kick start their 2016 campaign by taking on UiTM FC at the UiTM Stadium in Shah Alam today. Since more than half of the squad are new faces, it is interesting to see whether what they have done over the pre season will be enough to get them to a good start against a side that can be best described as their bogey team.

 Past records certainly don’t favour the Sabah Rhinos. They merely won once while UiTM FC registered three wins in their last four meetings. Last season, they lost twice to the Shah Alam-based outfit, losing 1-2 away before being humbled 2-3 at the Likas Stadium. In the 2014 season, they won 1-0 away but were embarrassed 1-3 at home in the second round. Last season, Sabah Rhinos finished seventh in the 12-team league on 27 points from eight wins, three draws and suffered 11 defeats, while UiTM FC in eighth with 26 points from seven wins, four draws and 11 defeats.

 Today, whether they get the desired result or otherwise, this one match will not be enough to give us any telling factor whether they can be among the contenders for the Premier League crown as after all to be honest, it has not been a great pre season for the state side. They played more than a dozen friendly matches, but the only competitive one was against KL Felda United FC at the Safa Tawau Invitational Football tournament where they drew two-all against the Super League side.

 In the tournament, they also chalked up a 2-0 win against the Brunei Under-23 side. The rest of the friendlies were against the State Junior teams as well as local outfits and a on a number of occasions against FAM Cup new boys DYS FC. Sabah Rhinos Croatian head coach Vjeran Simunic has named a 20-member squad for the two consecutive away clashes.

 After the date with UiTM FC, the team will head to Pahang where they will face Kuantan FA on Monday. Out of the 20, nine players are from last year’s squad namely Alto Linus, Julamri Muhammad, Mohd Azzizan Nordin, Leopold Alfonso Otong, Badrul Affendy, Maxsius Musa, Rawilson Batuil, Shafuan Adli Shaari and Jenius Karib. Mohd Fadzley will be between the posts. 

Only four of these players are expected to make the first team where Alto is likely to be deployed at the right back with Julamri left, while Rawilson will partner Croatian Igor Cerina at the centre. The other two players will be Leopold and Maxsius, who will make Simunic’s five-man midfield with both Leopold and Maxsius playing wide.

 At the heart of the midfield, it will be Indonesian Dedi Kusnandar and Brazilian Marco Tulio Lopes Silva together with Radzi Hussin. Nigerian Prince Tochukwu Nnake will be the team’s lone striker in Simunic’s 4-2-3-1 formation, which can be either defensive or offensive depending on the flow of the game.

 Speaking ahead of the season opener, Simunic hopes that his side will be able to live up to expectations. “After 40 days of preparations, we finally start our first match. We are a little bit unlucky because we have to play two games away in three days … it is not good, but that is not an excuse not to do well.

 “We are playing against a side that we have not had a good record, but now, we have to focus on something new. The team is new, so we have to show new attitude and new character and I hope from tomorrow (today) we can start to show the new face of our team,” Simunic said. Meanwhile, team manager Datuk Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan is confident Sabah Rhinos will be able to get the better of their opponents if the players play to the coach’s instructions.

 “Based on past records, it may look difficult for us to win, but if we play with discipline, great determination and give fullest commitment in the game, I’m confident the team will get the desired result,” said Nizam. The rest of the players that made the trip are Ricco Nigel Milus, Shafie Talip, Umareng Bachok, Muhamad Nazri Ahmad and Rozaimie Rohim.

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