KOTA KINABALU: The Rhinos are heading to the Southern State of Johor to play two friendly matches as part of their preparations for the Malaysia Cup campaign that kicks off later this month.
They will leave for the triangular friendly tournament involving three teams – the other two being Johor State team and Johor FC – on September 10.
The Rhinos will take on Johor FC in the opening game on September 11 followed by Johor on September 13 before heading home the following day.
Upon their return, the Rhinos will have about a week or so to rectify their weaknesses before heading to Tawau where they are expected to take on Tawau Selection on September 23, which will be their final warm-up match ahead of the Malaysia Cup where the Rhinos will be pitted against Selangor in the Group D opener.
Group D also comprises Kuala Muda Naza and PDRM.
For the record, Sabah’s Malaysia Cup home venue will be the Tawau Sports Complex field following a decision by the Sabah FA to switch their homeground venue from the Likas Stadium due to poor support from the local fans.
Its Deputy President Datuk Lawrence Gimbang said the decision had been made and that the Malaysian Football Association (FAM) had agreed to and accepted their decision.
“The matches would be held in Tawau because the number of spectators that turned up for the league matches was very discouraging. We therefore decided on a new direction.
In the just concluded Premier League, where Sabah had a disappointing season, less than 2,000 fans turned up for each of the Rhinos’ home matches.
This has resulted in poor revenue collection from ticket sales for the Sabah FA, as opposed to past seasons where spectator turnout had seen far more encouraging figures.
Gimbang also confirmed that stand-in coach Mohd Asyraaf Fong Abdullah would continue to provide the Rhinos with his technical leadership at least until the end of the season, this year.
“He is still Sabah’s temporary coach and we have great hopes in him to lead us towards Malaysia Cup excellence, and I think the players feel this way too,” said Gimbang.
Asyraaf took over the coaching helm on July 1 after Iraqi coach Wathiq Naji Jasim was released indefinitely from his duty due to poor performances and match results.
After the Selangor fixture, Sabah will take on Kuala Muda Naza away on September 29 before entertaining Police at home on October 3.
They then kick start their second round campaign by taking on Selangor away on October 6 before playing two consecutive home games against Kuala Muda Naza on October 10 and PDRM on October 13.
Other teams featuring in the competition are Perlis, Plus FC, Pahang and Melaka for Group A, while Terengganu, Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Sarawak make up Group B.
Johor FC, Perak, MyTeam and Kuala Lumpur will compete in Group C, whereas Kedah, Kelantan, Penang and Armed Forces complete Group E.