Hotshot Norshahrul Idlan Talaha’s untimely injury has delivered a double blow to Kelantan and the national football team.
The two-time Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Year is down with a knee injury, sustained during the domestic competition last week, and has been ruled out from the national training squad preparing for the friendlies against Super League side Sabah in Kota Kinabalu tomorrow and the Philippines national team in Manila on Feb 29.
National coach Datuk K. Rajagopal has no choice but to leave out Norshahrul for the two friendlies, which are part of their preparations for the Suzuki Cup Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championships in November.
Mohd Safee Sali, who plays for Indonesian Super League side Pelita Jaya FC, and Norshahrul are the two main men upfront.
In fact, the duo were instrumental in the national team winning the Suzuki Cup in 2010.
Norshahrul’s injury is also bad news for the Red Warriors, as they look ahead to the AFC Cup and FA Cup competitions.
Team manager Azman Ibrahim said Norshahrul will be out for three weeks, which means that Kelantan will be without their top scorer for three home matches – against Negri Sembilan (Super League) on March 4, Navibank of Saigon (AFC Cup) on March 7 and Kuala Lumpur (FA Cup) in the second round tie on March 10.
With Norshahrul, their leading goal-getter with five goals in the Super League, out, the task to deliver the goals will now rest on the shoulders of Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Mohd Norfarhan Mohd and S. Chanturu.
Kelantan will also check out new Nigerian signing Onyakachi Nwoha in a friendly against Singapore Armed Forces in Kota Baru on Saturday.
Azman said Nwoha failed to impress when he made his debut against Sarawak in the FA Cup first round game on Feb 17. Kelantan won the game 2-1 in Kota Baru.
“It was his (Nwoha) first game and it’s only fair that we give him a few more matches to familiarise himself with the conditions here. We hope the friendly will work out well for Nwoha,” said Azman.
The Kelantan FA (Kafa) aim to raise the bar for Malaysian football by making a strong impression in their AFC Cup debut this year.
The Red Warriors are drawn in Group H with Ayeyawady United (Mya), Arema Indonesia (Ina) and Navibank Saigon (Vie).