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Published: Friday January 11, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 22, 2013 MYT 5:24:54 PM

Penang Panthers put up valiant performance against Hong Kong team

THE Penang Panthers may have fired blanks against Hong Kong professional side Sun Pegasus FC in their warm-up to the new FAM Cup season, but coach Merzagua Abdul Razak has no complaints.

The Moroccan, who more than a decade ago made a name for himself with the Penang football fraternity, liked what he saw of his boys and was smiling despite the stalemate.

“We are not at our best yet. But what delighted me most was witnessing my charge successfully hitting past the 50% mark in terms of performances,” said Merzagua, shortly after their goalless draw against the Hong Kong Division One outfit.

“If we had failed to produce such a display in our last friendly outing against NS Betaria FC, we were marvellous today as we gave our best on the pitch.

“Although we failed to fully utilise the several chances created, we showed that we were all ready to go forward. There was not so many back passes or even lost passes in our game, and such improvement automatically meant my work is falling into place.

“There’s still room for improvement. Thus if our performances, especially before the numerous changes came in, are to be used as a yardstick, then the fear of my Panthers not being able to raise their game, has been unfounded.

“I’m pretty sure their confidence had reached the 90% mark. With some finer polishing, I dare say we can be a force to be reckoned with when we embark on our FA Cup as well as our FAM Cup campaign,” he added.

Merzagua had every reason to walk tall that night, considering the star-studded outlook of the Sun Pegasus FC who trooped in for their friendly clash on Monday.

The Hong Kong outfit had as many as seven foreign players and they looked quite intimidating as Penang had to depend solely on local talents since FAM Cup sides are not permitted to have any foreign signing.

It was not a big surprise when Sun Pegasus emerged as the early aggressors, punching holes at Penang’s defence at will, as they came searching for an early strike.

However, with high expectations coming from the “Kramat” fans, who once again filled the grandstand and hundreds spilling onto the terrace area, the Panthers responded to their continued vocal support.

After soaking up the early attacks that Sun Pegasus had hurled at them, the Panthers went on the offensive. They not only succeeded in pushing the visitors back but put them through some anxious moments outside their own goal.

It nearly spelt trouble for the Hong Kong side in the 40th minute when Sun Pegasus striker Karalic was given the marching orders for a second bookable offence following a delayed tackle on Panther’s midfielder Muhammad Zulhadi Zulkefli.

The Penang Panthers went for the kill two minutes later on the visitor’s numerical disadvantage and they looked good to break the deadlock.

An enthusiastic Muhammad Zulhadi, despite still shaking off the pain on his ankle, managed to circle the Sun Pegasus defence, ably led by the towering Firseca and Miovic Igor, before releasing a pass to a lurking Elias Sulaiman.

But Elias took one step too many and he failed to get the better of Sun Pegasus goalkeeper Jian Li, who effectively made a scrambling save to keep his goal intact.

Penang again looked good for a goal in the 57th minute when former Universiti Sains Malaysia FC striker Mohamad Baser Napae sent a cracking left-footer screaming towards the face of goal after successfully shaking off his marker.

However, with both Elias and former Johor FC midfielder Mohd Syafuan Riduwan within striking distance, they were just a step too slow to add the much-needed finishing touch.

With both sides making swift changes after the hour mark, Sun Pegasus launched repeated attacks but the Penang defence managed to hold on till the final whistle.

Merzagua, who had put his Panthers through a series of tough tests against top Super League outfits like treble champs Kelantan, Perak and Premier League sides Perlis and NS Betaria FC, said he was unlikely to give his charge tough assignments ahead of their FA Cup national knockout opener against Police on Jan 25.

“I have seen how my players fare against tough teams and now I want to see them playing against ‘softer’ opponents,” said the Moroccan, who identified their President’s Cup squad as their next sparring partner.

“If we can maintain this sort of discipline which made us look so good here, then I can safely say that we are ready to take on anyone.”

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