TWO-TIME Malaysia Cup semi-finalists Johor FC have a mountain to climb against Lions XII in their opening Malaysia Cup Group A match at Pasir Gudang Stadium today.
However, coach Sazali Saidon believes that his team have a good chance against the group favourites even without his two midfielders - skipper Khairul Ismail and Syazwan Zainon - who are forced to sit out today's match due to a one-match suspension for three yellow card offences.
"We have depth on the bench and we have the confidence to face the Singaporeans after we beat them 1-0 in a league match in Singapore," said Sazali, who took over the team in mid-season after K. Devan quit following a spate of poor results which left Johor FC languishing at the bottom of the league table.
Johor FC beat Lions XII in their last league match at the Jalan Besar Stadium to avoid the relegation playoffs and eventually finished ninth in the league. Lions XII finished second behind Kelantan.
With the top two teams in the group advancing to the quarter- finals, Johor FC need nothing less than a win before crossing paths with Johor at Larkin Stadium on Saturday. The other team in the group are PKNS FC of Selangor.
In their last trip to Pasir Gudang, the Lions XII won 1-0 with a late goal but coach V. Sundramoorthy said he is braced for a tough time against Johor FC today. Lions skipper Shahril Ishak has given the team a big boost after being doubtful for the earlier part of the Malaysia Cup due to a dislocated shoulder.
"Shahril was doubtful for the Malaysia Cup but has made a speedy recovery and I will definitely field him against Johor FC," said Sundramoorthy, who added that he has respect for the other three teams in the group.
Sazali is unlikely to start with his unfit Brazilian ace Arthur Bernhadt, the team's top scorer in the league with 12 goals. Arthuro, as he is known, returned to Johor Baru last week from Sao Paulo, Brazil where he had to settle some personal problems.
"I will only decide whether to play him or not before the match. Arthuro is not match fit after a long layoff. This was seen when he was fielded in the second half against Negri Sembilan in a friendly last week," said Sazali.
Johor FC reached the Malaysia Cup semi-finals twice (2008 and 2011) and team manager Wan Nizam Wan Omar believes the team are capable of achieving the initial target of reaching the quarter-finals.
Johor FC have signed two players on loan for their Malaysia Cup campaign - striker Akmal Mohd Noor from USM and Aizul Ridzwan Razali from Pos - who have added more depth to the squad. By J.J. Shah