Sabah still have a long way to go in their bid to land their first ever Malaysia Cup title.
Head coach Justin Ganai said the Rhinos have come close before on three occasions but ended up playing bridesmaid to Selangor and Selangor MPPJ. They lost to Selangor twice in the final in 1996 (on penalties) and in 2002 (extra-time, 0-1) while MPPJ beat them 3-0 in the final in 2003.
This time, their hopes of making waves and stage a serious assault for the Malaysia Cup looks slim because of poor preparations.
“It’s true we have no good sparring partners here and we have only played against local club sides. Due respect to these clubs ... it’s just not the ideal preparations for a state team ahead of the Malaysia Cup competition.
“It is no point winning matches 11-0 and 14-0 because my boys don’t learn against lowly opponents.
“It is a pity we are unable to travel out (Peninsula Malaysia) for better sparring matches. We need to play against stronger teams to identify our weakness.
“This is a setback for the players and it appears we have a mountain to climb when we play against the big guns of the competition,” said the veteran coach from Kota Kinabalu yesterday.
Sabah have been drawn in Group A with Kedah, Perak and Johor.
To make matters worst the team have not been able to train at home for a week because of maintenance work at the Likas Stadium for an international event, which Sabah will host next month.
To compound the problem Sabah are now forced to play all their home matches first against Perak (Sept 6), Kedah (Sept 10) and Johor (Sept 17).
“We are putting undue pressure on the boys to play all the three home matches in a row. I would have preferred the original schedule having to play one home game followed by three away matches. We need the element of luck under these conditions and hopefully we can collect points in the home matches,” said Justin.
Sabah will be counting on senior hands – Zainizam Marjan, Stanley Bernard, Farid Ederis and Razlan Otto – to lead the charge for goals while the other seasoned hands include Mohd Reithaudeen Emran, Sumardi Hajalan, Zuraindey Jumai, Rosdin Wasli, K. Thanaraj, Radzi Hussin and goalkeeper’s Syed Adney Syed Hussein and Azizon Kadir.
Justin has almost two decades of coaching experience with Sabah after having started as an assistant to Kelly Tham in 1992 before assuming the head coach post in 1999.
“He had also served under foreign coaches Ron Smith, Ken Shellito, Ken Worden and David Woodfield.
“We nearly brought home the Malaysia Cup in 2003. We hope that next year, with the inclusion of foreign players, we can stage a more concerted effort to achieve our dream of winning the Malaysia Cup,” said Justin.