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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Only victory will do

MATCH PREVIEW By FRANCIS XAVIER Francis@newsabahtimes.com.my

 KOTA KINABALU: Things may not have gone his way, but Vjeran Simunic still cuts a determined figure as he led his players in training at the Likas Stadium yesterday. He is preparing his side for their first home game of the season where they will face FAM Cup outfit MOF FC (Ministry of Finance Football Club) in the second round of the FA Cup competition tonight.

 The match, which is scheduled to kick off at 8.15pm, is one match that they must win after an embarrassing start to their Premier League campaign. They lost their opening two games on the road, and no thanks to the unfavourable fixtures. They went down to UiTM FC and Kuantan FA with an identical scoreline of 1-4.

 Yes, it is still early days in the season, but the Sabah Rhinos head coach has already started to feel the heat. And he knows how important this tie is for his side, as he is fully aware that only victory could help instil spirit into his demoralised squad. Anything less would only add more salt to their wounds.

 Like last time out, Sabah Rhinos also received a first round bye, and were booted out from the competition by PDRM after succumbing to a 0-3 defeat away in the second. For the record, the last seven years, Sabah Rhinos have not made it beyond the second round.

This time around, their chances of doing one step better looks good after being pitted against a side from the country’s third tier. Having said that, Sabah Rhinos, the 1995 winners (FA Cup), will have to go the extra mile, if they are to get the better of their amateurish opponents, who will not have the services of any foreign players.

 MOF FC will not lack experience in their side. They have quite a number of ex-national players as well as those who have seen Super League and Premier League action. Rudie Ramli, Solehan Kanasian Abdullah, Mohd Nizad Ayub and Mohd Aminuddin Mohd Noor are among those who have seen action for the national team, either for the senior or junior sides.

 Midfielder, Faizol Nazlin Sayuti, who had a short spell with the Sabah Rhinos last season, is also donning MOF FC colours. Back to Sabah Rhinos, Simunic is still undecided whether to stick to the same side that saw first team action in their opening two games. However, he plans to parade his best available players for the clash.

 Only Brazilian midfielder Marco Tulio Lopes Silva and flanker Leopold Alfonso Otong are doubtful for the clash. Marco is having problem with his hamstring while Leopold got a bad knock on his knee. And Simunic is hopeful that both players will make the game. Meanwhile, Sabah Rhinos team manager Datuk Nizam Abu Bakar Titingan is confident his side can nick their first win of the season if they maintain their performance until the final whistle.

 “Even though this is only a FA Cup competition, the players are spirited with high morale to make a quick rebound from our two defeats. “I hope, they will forget the two defeats, and focus on this game against MOF FC,” said Nizam when met at the team’s training at the Likas Stadium yesterday. According to Nizam, Sabah Rhinos are a good team, and it’s just that they cannot maintain their game for the entire 90 minutes.

 “This is football, sometimes even a good team cannot win,” Nizam said, as he called on the local fans to turn up in force to support the Sabah Rhinos. “Our situation now is that we need the fans to come and become our 12th player. “Insyallah, if they can give high commitment and play to the coach’s instructions, we will get something good out of this game,” he said.

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