KOTA KINABALU: Sabah’s Malaysia Cup challenge took a slight knock after succumbing to a 2-3 defeat to Sarawak in a Borneo derby clash at the Sarawak Stadium on Saturday.

But it is not the end of the road for the Rhinos as they are pretty much still in contention for a place in the last eight.

There are three matches left to play in the preliminary round stages, with Sabah playing two of those games at home.

Winning the two home games would certainly put them through into the knockout stage of the prestigious tournament.

However, the Rhinos will not have an easy ride as they would have to face leaders Kedah and Pahang (at home), before concluding their group campaign up against Police in an away battle.

Even team manager Rahman Zakaria remains optimistic about the Rhinos’ chances of making it into the next round despite the defeat to Sarawak that saw them being pipped from the second spot by Perak who scored a 3-1 victory over Police in another Group C challenge.

“I think we are still very much in the race, but nothing will be easy from now, not only for us but for the rest of the teams in the group. So now we must realise how important our next two matches against Kedah and Pahang are.

“We have no other choice but to win those two matches in order to make it through,” said Rahman.

On the defeat to Sarawak, Rahman said: “I’m disappointed because we could have at least settled for a draw, but then again this is football. When you look at the game, I think we looked the better side, but in football it is all about scoring.”

“We had our chances and so did Sarawak. But I really hope the players will learn something from this defeat and that they must play to their best ability no matter who our opponents are.

“I want them to take this as a lesson and hope in the future it will not happen again. I also want them to take this defeat positively and put up a better show in our coming matches be it the Malaysia Cup, FA Cup or League,” Rahman said.

Kedah stay on top of the standings on 15 points, followed by Perak on 13 while Sabah are two points behind in third.

Fourth placed Police, who picked up eight points after seven games are also still in contention, while Sarawak have also revived their slim chances after picking up seven points thus far.

In the Borneo derby clash, Sarawak took the lead through Khairulzal Azmi’s 25th minute goal, and Sabah had the chance to put things on level terms, but unfortunately Prince Ativie Guy saw his spot kick saved by the Sarawak custodian.

However, Radzi Hussin finally managed to score the equaliser for Sabah in the 36th minute, but Mohd Shahrol Sabree restored Sarawak’s lead three minutes before the first-half break.

Chow Chee Wing put Sabah on level terms again when he struck the second goal for the Rhinos seven minutes after the break.

However, it only took Sarawak two minutes to restore the lead through Romeo Kambo’s penalty kick.

Sabah’s next game is up against Kedah at the Likas Stadium on Saturday, but before that they would take on Kuala Lumpur in a Premier League challenge at the same venue on Tuesday (tomorrow).

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