KOTA KINABALU: The Rhinos Head Coach Wathiq Naji Jasim finally declared that he now has a team to mount the challenge for Premier League glory.
Surprisingly, the Iraqi made the declaration after the bitter end to the Rhinos’ FA Cup campaign on Tuesday.
They went down 1-0 to Kuala Lumpur in the return leg bowing out in the first round of the competition after losing 2-1 on aggregate. The first leg ended in a one-all draw.
But despite the defeat, the Iraqi has no complaints and stood behind his team, insisting they have tried and gave their best shot.
”That’s reality,” he commented on the defeat. “You cannot change that, but I’m happy with the way we approached the game. We can see now that this team is able to compete or fight for anything.
“From the start, any team would need as many competitive friendlies as possible, to enable us to find the right players for the right position and so forth. This we didn’t get enough. And so this is what happened.
”But I’m happy to see the players coping well, which many did not expect them to play with such spirit and 100 per cent commitment.
“So now we can fully focus and prepare ourselves for the League. We have to set our sights and try to win the League.
“Overall, I have no complaints… because the players played their hearts out.
“Jati (Azrul Ejati Damsah) played well when he came in for Rezuan (Khan Aman), but Vun (Billyton Vun Ket Ming) was a hero (Tuesday night).
“The night belongs to him. He worked so hard and never showed any signs of giving up the fight,” Wathiq commented on the Rhinos’ oldest player on the field. Billyton turns 31 on Feb 18.
“I can see that every one of them gave their all. And I’m sorry for Wong (Sai Kong). What can I say … it could happen to anybody,” Wathiq described Wong’s missed penalty.
Sabah was presented with the spot kick after Billyton was brought down inside the penalty. Wong stood up to take the spot kick but hit the upright, skipper Zainizam Marjan took the rebound but smashed it to same post!
The luckless Rhinos were trailing after 28th minutes of play when Ahmad Hazwan Bakri capitalised on the Rhinos’ defensive error, he slotted home from close range for the opening goal.
Even despite trailing to the first half goal, the Rhinos created enough chances to not only level the score but also to win the game but unfortunately they were denied by poor finishing and also by the outstanding Kuala Lumpur custodian Saiful Amar Sudar.
In the last 15 minutes, the Rhinos had at least four golden opportunities to score the equaliser.
Zainizam had at least three attempts at Kuala Lumpur goal, including one hitting the goal post.
On another two occasions, including one in one-on-one situation with the keeper, he shot wide while the other straight to the keeper.
Alto Linus, who is yet to break the duck since he made his Premier League debut last month, also squandered a golden opportunity when he shot straight to the keeper in one-on-one situation.
Mafry was also denied the equaliser when the steady Saiful palmed his close range header.
“We will be having a meeting tomorrow (today). We will talk about the game. We will look into our weaknesses and also talk about our opponent and how they play the game,” Wathiq concluded.