KOTA KINABALU: Sabah was left cursing their luck as they made a cruel exit from the Malaysia Cup competition.
This is the second consecutive year that the State side had failed to make it beyond the group stage after finishing third in the Group B challenge which concluded on Saturday.
But unlike last year where Sabah was nowhere of making it into the quarter-finals, this time, they were heading into the match against Pahang knowing well three points would put them through into the knockout stage.
Unfortunately, they failed in their mission, as they merely managed to settle for a draw.
But even then, they were only minutes away from claiming their berth before Ashaari Samsuddin scored the winner three minutes into stoppage time that eventually gave his side Terengganu a 2-1 win over 10-man Kuala Lumpur in another Group B tie.
The victory saw Terengganu clinch the second quarter-finals spot from the group on 10 points. Pahang also made it through on 10 points while Sabah finished on nine points.
“We were very close to qualifying into the quarter-finals. We were one minute away for a fact but Terengganu scored late in the other match and they advanced,” said Sabah coach and manager Gary Phillips when contacted yesterday.
“This is football and we have to expect such results. We have nine points but still failed to make it but Kedah and Perlis did,” he added.
“We are very disappointed but then again, we fought hard and gave it our best.
In the must win match at the Darul Makmur Stadium, Pahang led through Fauzi Roslan in the 78th minute but Sabah’s Razlan Oto equalised four minutes later.
“I’m still proud of the boys. In six games we lost only once (against Terengganu away) and that tells of the team’s determination and improvement.
“And we did well when compared to other Premier League sides in the Malaysia Cup such as ATM (Armed Forces), Felda United and Selangor PKNS. We scored more goals, conceded less and collected the most points compared to them.
“It is a good achievement considering that we competed with limited resources and yet we did better and nearly qualified.
Gary said they will be holding a meeting today and the team will be given a break until they return for the pre-season on November 1.
He went on to say that they mustn’t see the elimination from the Malaysia Cup as a bad thing.
“In fact the team gained good and valuable experience against the Super League sides.
“We have a good team here although we need to add quality in certain areas to have a positive impact in the Super League.
“There is a lot of work to do but we will have I think about nine weeks of pre-season. I hope that all that we have gone through and experienced this season will give us a good footing for the Super League,” he added.