Kelantan skipper Mohd Badhri Radzi (left) in a file photo. He has a nagging back injury and will not be travelling with the team to Hanoi for their AFC Cup match against Ninh Binh.
PETALING JAYA: The Red Warriors are practically scraping the bottom of the barrel as they barely have a team for the AFC Cup Group F tie against table-toppers Ninh Binh FC of Vietnam in Hanoi on Wednesday.
Injuries, suspensions as well as the tight domestic and international playing calendar have taken a toll on coach Steve Darby’s east coast side. This time, the Englishman has only 15 players – including two goalkeepers – to pick for the game against Ninh Binh.
It is a massive blow to Kelantan’s hopes of qualifying for the round of 16. Among the key players who did not travel to Hanoi are influential skipper Mohd Badhri Radzi (back injury), midfielder Amar Rohidan (ankle), striker Ahmad Fakri Saarani (knee) as well as suspended strikers Khairul Izuan and Shakir Ali.
“It is physically impossible for the players to go on like this (playing so many matches),” said Darby from Kota Baru on Monday.
One consolation for Darby is that he will have all four foreign players on duty. They are Nigerian defender Obinne Nwaneri, midfielder Mohamed Shawky of Egypt and strikers Francis Doe of Liberia and Mohd Ghaddar Mahmoud of Lebanon.
Darby admitted that leaving out skipper Badhri was the hardest decision he’s had to make.
“He (Badhri) has a nagging back injury and the last thing I want is for him to aggravate the injury. It will take us 16 hours of travelling time (Kota Baru-KLIA, KLIA-Bangkok, Bangkok-Hanoi), including transit,” said Darby.
“It is better for him to rest at home than travel with the team. To make matters worse, we cannot take a
bigger squad because of the advanced flight bookings.”
He also explained that striker Brendan Gan and defender Fitri Omar, who were signed during the second transfer window, are not eligible to play because they are not registered for the AFC Cup competition.
Kelantan are third in Group F with three points and need a win to keep their hopes of advancing to the
next round alive.
Ninh Binh, who beat Kelantan 3-2 in Kota Baru, lead the group with the maximum nine points, followed by Yangon United of Myanmar on six points.