KELANTAN'S AFC Cup campaign is as good as over after crashing 5-1 to Iraq's Arbil in the quarter-finals, first leg on Tuesday though coach Bojan Hodak is not giving up the ghost yet.
Hodak, who was without several key players for the trip to Arbil, blamed the long journey for his side's defeat though Super League and FA Cup champions Kelantan managed to hold the Iraqi Premier League champions to 1-1 at half-time.
"To be honest, we didn't deserve this heavy defeat and we could have scored more than one goal but we failed to take any of the chances that we had," said Hodak on AFC's official website.
"The players were tired and affected by the long trip here which took more than 30 hours. We also missed five key players who didn't travel with us to Arbil because of different reasons."
Missing from the line up were Lebanese striker Mohammed Ghaddar, Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Azizi Matt Rose, Farisham Ismail and Rizal Fahmi Rosid through injury, Nigerian defender Obinna Nwaneri through suspension and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who was left out to care for his ill wife.
Hodak handed rare starts to loan signings Aslam Najumudeen and Mafry Balang while Denny Antwi was Kelantan's only import to start with Emmanuel Okine appearing in stoppage time.
Skipper Badhri Radzi equalised for Kelantan in the 41st minute from the penalty spot just three minutes after Halkard Mohammad Taher opened the scoring.
But second half goals from Amjed Radhi (50th), Luay Salah (66th) and Salih Sadeer (72nd and 93rd) effectively rendered the second leg in Kota Baru next Tuesday irrelevant.
Hodak, whose side then face Felda United in the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals, said they will start next week's second leg in a positive frame of mind.
"We will have some players back in the second leg and hopefully we can get a good result," said the Croatian.
l The FA of Malaysia has banned vuvuzelas and other horn apparatus from stadiums with immediate effect.
In a statement yesterday, FAM said the din created by the horns "made it difficult for referees and match officials to focus besides taking into account the damage done to hearing."
Separately, FAM has pushed the Pahang v LionsXII and Johor FC v Selangor Malaysia Cup quarter-final first leg matches to Tuesday to accommodate the Sultan of Selangor's Cup on Sept 29.
Armed Forces meet Negri Sembilan on Sept 28 and Felda and Kelantan clash on Sept 29 with the return legs all taking place either on Oct 2, if Kelantan fail to advance in the AFC Cup, or Oct 5 if they do. By Devinder Singh