HOTSHOT Rozaimi Abdul Rahman's arrival at the Malaysia Games in Kuantan today could not be more timely after Sabah barely made the quarter-finals after a 1-0 defeat to Kedah yesterday.
Group C ended with three teams tied on four points and level on goal difference but Kedah missed out on qualification after scoring just two goals to the three of Sabah and Perlis.
Perlis qualified after a 1-1 draw with Brunei, who were eliminated after three draws, but were edged out of the top spot on the head-to-head tie-breaker, having lost 1-0 to Sabah in the opening match.
Kedah could have gone through had they scored one more goal but were left to rue several missed chances to the agony of coach Nidzam Adzha Yusof.
"We played well but it's disappointing that we are out despite winning," said Nidzam after Syamim Sobri's 18th-minute goal had given Kedah a glimmer of hope.
Sabah rode their luck at times but team manager Alijus Sipil believes they will be an even better team when Rozaimi, Razid Gafar and Dandi Lowa join the side for the knockout stage.
"We had to play without Rozaimi all this while because he was in Yangon and then played in the Super League on Saturday.
"Sabah have another Super League game on Tuesday (tomorrow) but we want him here for the quarter-final (against Selangor) on the same day. I'm sure we can work something out with the Super League management," said Alijus, who is also the Sabah FA secretary-general.
In other matches, Negri Sembilan secured their last-eight berth after holding Group D winners Federal Territories 1-1 which meant Kelantan's 4-1 win over Malacca was in vain.
Negri opened scoring through Khairul Ridzwan Othman in the 25th minute before FT, making six changes having already qualified, equalised through A. Puvanarajah in the 66th.
In the quarter-finals, FT will meet defending champions Terengganu, who defeated Penang 3-0 to finish second in Group A, which was topped by Pahang who overcame Sarawak 2-1, thanks to Shafie Zahari's second-half winner.
Pahang will meet Negri in the last eight, while Perak face Perlis after defeating 10-man Selangor 2-0 to win Group B.
RESULTS - Group A: Pahang 2 Sarawak 1, Terengganu 3 Penang 0; Group B: Perak 2 Selangor 0; Group C: Kedah 1 Sabah 0, Brunei 1 Perlis 1; Group D: FT 1 Negri 1, Kelantan 4 Malacca 1.