HOVERING in the relegation zone is a major headache and to face Super League winners and newly crowned FA Cup champions Kelantan without seven first team players would be intimidating but not for Johor FC coach Sazali Saidon.
Within a week, Kelantan notched two highs in football. First was the 1-0 win over Sime Darby FC in the FA Cup final at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil on May 19 – their first in the competition.
Four days later, the Red Warriors scored another first by reaching the AFC Cup quarter-finals with another hard fought battle, this time a 3-2 win over bitter rivals Terengganu in Kota Baru.
Sazali, however, warned that Johor FC aim to put a stop to Kelantan’s celebrations. He believes Kelantan can be beaten and that it will not be a stroll in the park for the East Coast side in Pasir Gudang today.
In only his third assignment since he came on board after K. Devan quit the team in April, Sazali, however, has a depleted side with only 13 outfield players and three goalkeepers after seven first team players were kayoed by injuries.
Sazali sent an SOS to several President Cuppers to beef up his squad and has delayed naming his team till this morning to plot Kelantan’s downfall.
“The show must go on. And I am a strong believer that it could be a blessing in disguise. This is the time for the President Cuppers and the reserves to show their real stuff,” said Sazali.
“Kelantan are on a hot streak. They are the best team in the country but it does not mean the Red Warriors cannot be beaten. I have faith in my team and I know what my players can deliver on their day.”
The latest to join the crock list are former international centre-back Kaironnisam Sahabudin and Khairi Kiman (left-back). Khaironnisam underwent surgery for a broken nose while Khairi sustained a knee injury in the 2-1 defeat to Negri Sembilan in Paroi on May 12.
The others on the injury list are midfielders Eddie Helmi Abdul Manan (knee) and Azi Shahril Azmi (ankle), strikers Zamri Chin (knee) and Shahrizal Saad (tendon) and defender Shafizan Hashim (knee).
“We have our backs against the wall. But it stops at that ...we cannot harp on our predicament. Instead, we have to rally as a team and look forward to break down Kelantan. ” By JJ Shah