KOTA KINABALU: The much-anticipated Malaysian Super League 2012 kicks off today with Sabah taking on a new-look KL Felda United FC in an evening match at the Hang Jebat Stadium in Melaka. The tie that is scheduled to kick off at 4.45pm will see Sabah facing an unknown opponent, who retained only five of its players from last year’s squad and recruited 17 new faces including their sole foreign signing, Argentine Matias Favano.
Interestingly, Sabah, who finished 10th last season; will take on a team that finished just behind them last season.
Both Sabah team manager AR Hj Shahriman Abdullah and its head coach Justin Ganai are optimistic ahead of the opener.
The top two team officials have every reason for being confident and optimistic.
Based on the head to head record between the two sides, Sabah has the upper hand, at least if we look at their meeting last season where Sabah managed to steal a point away (0-0) and edged them 2-1 at home.
But despite that Shahriman was quick to remind his chargers not to underestimate their opponent.
“It is very important for us to get the result,” Shahriman said, when contacted yesterday.
“If we can return home with something, it would be good for us because we will be playing home this Saturday … and it will be a big boost to the team,” he added, as he refers to Sabah’s first home tie against Sarawak.
“So far, I’m happy with the development of the team. When I sent them off on Sunday, they promised me that they will give their best shot,” Shahriman said.
KL Felda United FC somehow, Shahriman pointed out has strengthened their squad with good signings.
“They have engaged several good players. One is Yong Kuong Yong, a midfielder from Kuala Lumpur. They have also signed midfielder S. Sivanesan and Muhd Nazri Ahmad from Harimau Muda A.
“They also have a good goalkeeper – Mohd Hamsani Ahmad. And I can see that they are a strong side. So we shouldn’t take the game lightly and be over confident. We have to go all out and get the result,” Shahriman said.
For the record, Sabah’s discard M. Sivakumar is also with KL Felda United FC, and is expected to take on his former teammates.
On the other hand, Justin wants his side to return home with at least a point.
“We will go there to try and get the points. We do not know much about them because they have new players.
“But the confidence among our players is high at the moment, which is a good thing to see.
“As long as we can play as a team and have good team effort and are willing to work hard, I think there should be no problem in getting the result,” said Justin before hinting that he is likely to start with the side that played against Brunei recently.
“If there are any changes, it will be minimal … maybe one or the most two,” said Justin.
Sabah brought a squad of 23 players for the opener leaving the crocked Zuraindey Jumai, Julamri Muhammad, Alto Linus and Mohd Safuan Ibrahim at home.
The rest of the players made the trip to the historical State of Melaka.
However, keeper Azizon Kadir and Razlan Oto are doubtful starters for the clash.
Both players are having ankle injuries aggravated during the friendlies against Brunei.
While Razlan may not be in the first team, but Azizon is one player that Justin is thinking of starting the game ahead of Syed Adney Syed Hussien.
If Azizon fails a late fitness test, Syed Adney will start for Sabah with Irwan Jamil likely to deputise.
At the backline, Justin is sticking to Sumardi Hajalan as leftback and Mafry Balang on the right, while skipper Md Reithuddin Ag Emran and Ronny Harun will be at the centre of the defence.
In midfield, Sabah will have its foreign signing Brendan Gan with either Radzi Mohd Hussin or Zainizam Marjan shouldering the job with him in orchestrating the engine room.
Justin is still tinkering on the left and right of midfield with Shahrul Azhar Ture and Md Rozaimi Abd Rahman likely to start ahead of K. Thanaraj and Shahrudin Yakup.
In attack, Aussie Michael William Baird and Bobby Gonzales are his obvious choice with the inexperienced Jufrey Omopor and youngster Leopold Alfonso Otong likely to start from the bench.
Elsewhere, Lions XII FC will be making a return to the M-League after a 17-year absence. They are home to defending champion Kelantan in a match that is scheduled to kick off at 7.45pm at the Jalan Besar Stadium (Singapore).
Last year’s runner-up Terengganu is playing away to Perak while the other ties will see newly promoted Selangor PKNS taking on Johor FC at home with Sarawak playing Kuala Lumpur, also on home turf.
Charity Shield 2012 winner Negeri Sembilan is taking on Selangor at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium in Paroi while another club side Terengganu’s T-Team will be pitted against Kedah at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium in Kuala Terengganu.