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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Last-eight berth at stake


 KOTA KINABALU: Hopes are high for Sabah Rhinos to nick victory when they take on fellow Premier League strugglers, the Armed Forces (ATM), in the third round of the FA Cup at the Likas Stadium here tonight. In fact, this is seen as a must-win tie for the under-fire Vjeran Simunic, as anything less than a win could see his days with the state side numbered, and no thanks to the disastrous start to their Premier League campaign where they lost their opening four matches.

 The battle of the bottom teams in the 12-team Premier League will see the winners claim a spot in the quarter-finals of the single knockout competition. Sabah Rhinos and ATM are the only two sides that have yet to collect a single point in the Premier League challenge, and this FA Cup is one venue where they can redeem some lost pride.

 The Sabah Rhinos-ATM tie is one of the five third round matches being played tonight, while the other three were held on Friday. At press time, no official results were available. Speaking ahead of tonight’s clash, Simunic warned his defensive players to be more alert if they want to see the team get the better of their opponents.

 The Sabah Rhinos head coach admitted that their fragile backline is one of their main problems, which saw them concede a total of 13 goals from four games in the League. “Our biggest problem is our defence. We conceded far too many goals. I don’t know how or why … it just happened. And I don’t understand how things like that happened in our last four games, and we must rectify this problem instantly if we want to compete for the rest of our campaign,” said the 62-year-old Simunic. 

Despite the four consecutive defeats, Simunic remains optimistic that his charges will be able to redeem themselves in the coming matches, including in this date with ATM. He said they need to give their fullest concentration in this tie. “We have improved from game to game. We may have suffered defeats and lost points in our last matches, but we have learnt a lot from.

We are getting better, and our best match thus far was against Kuala Lumpur where we managed to recover from 0-2 down before eventually losing the tie 2-3. Maybe because we were a bit unlucky not to settle for at least a point (against KL),” he said. He also hinted that he is likely to parade the same line up against Kuala Lumpur for tonight’s clash.

“We will retain most of the first team that played against Kuala Lumpur last Friday. There may be a few changes, but I will make my decision later,” he said. On paper, Sabah Rhinos are holding the upper hand over their opponents. They are not only having homeground advantage or home support, but they are also strengthened by four foreign signings namely Prince Tochukwu Nnake, Marco Tulio Lopes Silva, Dedi Kusnandar and Igor Cerina. On the other hand, ATM will parade an all-local side. Majority of their players are Army personnel.

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