Saturday, 7 January 2012

Negeri Sembilan rely on youngsters in Charity Shield

Negeri Sembilan have much to prove this season, starting with today’s Charity Shield clash against Kelantan at the National Stadium, after being severely weakened by the departure of eight key players from last season’s Malaysia Cup-winning squad.

Coach Azraai Khor Abdullah has placed his faith on  a number of youngsters after failing to strengthen his squad in the off-season, with Negeri potentially falling short of cover should any of their seasoned players get injured or suspended.

They only have one foreign player in Cameroon forward  Jean-Emmanuel Effa Owona after the FA of Malaysia did not approve the signing of Brazilian defender Marquen Gonçalves Ferreira although Azraai stressed that Negeri are ready for the battle ahead.

“We basically have a new line-up this season with quite a few young players after a number of senior players moved on to other teams. But we are ready for the 2012 season and we want to win the Charity Shield to give us confidence,” said Azraai at yesterday’s pre-match press conference at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.

Apart from Owona, the only other significant additions are defender Rashid Mamud from Felda United, Kuala Lumpur duo Norismaidham Ismail and Nazrin Nawi and striker Ahmad Shakir Ali from Kedah.

Defender Muszaki Abu Bakar, midfielder Bukhairi Idris from Young Tigers B, goalkeeper Kaharuddin Abdul Rahman and strikers Firdaus Azizul and Shakir are among the young brigade who Azraai intends to give more opportunities to this season.

Azraai, who took over Negeri after a bad start under Wan Jamak Wan Hassan last year, is confident that after being given the chance to shape the squad to his liking, his team will be able to challenge for honours.

“When I came in last season, the team was already there, and a lot of players were injured. This season, we start afresh and I had the chance to set up a new team. The young players may not be as good as the senior stars who have left but they have a lot of potential.

“I believe in the youngsters because at this age they are more willing to learn and are hungry for success. We are also giving more attention to development while expecting to deliver results at the same time.

“They are all full of potential and have much room for improvement,” added Azraai, who has yet to win the Charity Shield.

While Negeri are eager to get their hands on the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup, Kelantan coach Peter Butler’s priority appears firmly fixed on the Super League.

Butler eschewed the chance to train at the National Stadium yesterday, preferring to practise on  the artificial turf at the nearby National Sports Council (NSC) to get a grip on the surface in preparation for their Super League opener against LionsXII at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday.

“Tomorrow’s (today’s) game is important in terms of preparation for Tuesday. I am already thinking of next week and we are totally focused on that. We are thankful to NSC for allowing us to use the Astroturf,” said Butler, who stressed that it did not mean Kelantan will give Negeri an easy ride tonight.

“We respect Negeri as the Malaysia Cup champions, a lot of people say we are the favourites but I think it will be a 50-50 game.”

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