Saturday, July 20

Crocs can still make round two


FAS chief hopes fans to be realistic in expectations, continue to support team

Datu Sudarsono Osman

KUCHING: Datu Sudarsono Osman is happy with the Crocs’ performance against Kelantan and remains optimistic Sarawak are still in contention for a quarter-final spot from Group C.

The Football Association of Sarawak (FAS) boss also hails the support from the fans and hopes they will be “realistic in their expectations” and continue to support the team.

“We never say we will top the group – we just want to qualify for the second round by finishing second in the group. It so happened our first game pitted us against the best team in the country. It is a learning curve –  a baptism of fire for our young players,” he stressed.

Although playing against a much better team, Sarawak were still able to give as much as they got in the first 45 minutes but were let down by their inability to translate the numerous chances into goals.

Sudarsono admitted the young Sarawak team lacked the individual skills to change direction and turn things around when it comes to a crunch.

On the other hand, Kelantan’s highly paid squad showed they could stem and turn the tide by confidently running against the Crocs’ defence and finishing off their chances.

Sudarsono hoped this weakness of the Crocs would be a thing of the past when Sarawak signed new players to strengthen their campaign in the Super League next season.

He stressed Sarawak would recruit A-rated peninsular Malaysian players and foreign imports for the challenge.

“I would be foolish not to invest in strengthening the team for the new season,” he said.

The biggest problem for Sarawak in recruiting star players from the peninsula is geographical location and the richer teams’ tendencies to fight for the same players.

“We never had star players but we were quite successfully in grooming raw talents,” he said, referring to Melaka’s trio of Shamsurin Abdul Rahman, Mazlan Wahed and Ong Kim Swee who were unknown before becoming national players while playing for Sarawak under Alan Vest.

The same can be said of Safee Saili who was a total unknown when he first played for Sarawak but went on to become one of the country’s most feared strikers.

Sudarsono said although there was a considerable  standard gap between a Premier League outfit and a Super League champion, Sarawak’s youngsters still managed to surprise Kelantan in the first half.

The Crocs, he noted, were in the doldrums for many seasons, playing home games to empty stadium with near zero income from tickets sales.

“We survived on grants, donations and sponsorships – and had to be thrifty with our limited resources,” he said, adding that the team had been running on a deficit. Sudarsono revealed Sarawak players were actually paid quite high – probably higher than most senior civil servants but may not be able to match teams like Selangor or Kelantan.

“On top of salaries, we also pay them winning bonuses to motivate them. I cannot go to the press and reveal all the arrangements we made for them. We don’t want people to think we spoil the players.

“In fact, during a pep talk that night (match against Kelantan) we promised the players bonuses if they beat Kelantan. This may not be known to the reserved players not in the dressing room.”

He said the team management made many sacrifices to build the current squad amid financial difficulties.

“They were unable to sell tickets previously when matches were played during the day. This is the first time, after a long while, that we played at night and getting that kind of support from the fans was most encouraging,” he said.

On claims by some of the players that there had been no bonus payments, Sudarsono confirmed prize money had already been distributed to the players and coaches.

He hoped the fans would continue to support the Crocs and not be disheartened by the defeat against Kelantan.

“Kelantan is the best team in the country – we must accept that.”  He said Sarawak will continue fighting for the place in second round as the other two teams – KL Felda United and Johor FC – they will be facing are equally tough.

KL Felda United are built around former Malaysia players while Johor were last year’s Malaysia Cup semi-finalist.

Tomorrow, Sarawak will play away to Felda United and it will be an important yardstick on how far this young state team can go.

On Tuesday, Felda United defeated Johor 2-0 at the JCorp Stadium with goals from former national striker Farderin Kadir in the 44th and 68th minutes. Felda United and Kelantan now have three points and two goals each.

Sudarsono believes Sarawak will rise to the occasion and prove the doubting Toms wrong.