Call him coach Merzagua

MOROCCAN striker Merzagua Abdul Razak is back in Penang and eager to bring back the famous ‘Kramat Roar’ that raged the Malaysian football scene more than a decade ago.

Known as the Great Merz he will however, not be playing for the state team this time around but is taking on the role as coach.

The 45-year-old ex-hitman, who was a household name when he sardine-packed the stadium with his brilliance on the pitch, had sent the ‘Kramat Roar’ to its highest when he donned Penang colours in the 1996-98 seasons.

With Penang football having dived to its lowest level to feature in the FA of Malaysia’s third-tier FAM Cup for the second year running, Merzagua is back to help restore Penang’s dented pride.

“That is just what I am determined to do when the new season kicks off later this month, beginning with the FA Cup,” he said shortly after the team’s warm up match against Premier League outfit NS Betaria FC at the City Stadium on New Year’s Day.

“My ultimate target is to guide Penang football out of the doldrums, to earn a promotion ticket back to the second-tier Premier League in my first season back as coach.

“However, I cannot do that alone. I will need the strong backing of the ardent Penang fans. That automatically means bringing back that Kramat Roar which made me feel so electrified when I was playing for Penang way back in 1996,” Merzagua said.

His dream of enticing his Penang fans to help him achieve his target in the Malaysian football scene looks good if the overwhelming turnout at the City Stadium in Penang’s initial three pre-season friendlies are to be used as a yardstick.

The fans, who have in recent seasons given up on their Panthers following their slump on the pitch, are surprisingly back in numbers.

Despite being just pre-season friendly matches, the Panther fans not only filled the grandstand seats but spilled over to the terraces just to get a better view of the action.

A clear indication of their promising return to bring back the ‘Kramat Roar’ are the growing numbers of hawkers and stalls outside the stadium.

If there was previously just one burger stall faithfully doing business outside, there are now three. Drink stalls and those selling sports attire like colourful football jerseys of different teams have sprouted outside the stadium.

The fans did not give up despite the Panthers being handed a 4-0 beating by treble League champs Kelantan in their opening friendly match last month and were duly rewarded for their show of faith in Penang’s second warm-up clash.

They were over the moon when an all important strike from former USM FC striker Mohamad Baser Napae saw them inflicting Super League outfit Perak with a 1-0 defeat.

But on New Year’s Day, when Merzagua fielded the reserves to check out their strength, Penang lost 1-3 to Negri Sembilan’s Betaria FC.

“It was a performance which I can’t really complain. While I was determined to check out my reserves, it was clear that they were unable to stand up against Betaria when we gave away two goals in the first half.

“But when I sent in my first choice players, we not only managed to harass Betaria but succeeded in pulling one back from the penalty spot.

“That was enough to give me a clearer insight of what we have and I strongly believe that we should be on the right track if I’m able to transfer my experience, both tactically and technically, to my players,” Merzagua said.

Betaria’s L. Rakesh scored the opening goal in that match. They went two up when Betaria skipper Mohd Efendi chipped over reserve keeper Mohd Fazreen after latching onto a S. Hariharan cross at the stroke of half time.

Betaria, however, were made to backpedal the moment Merzagua made the changes at the break. Penang pulled one back in the 65th minute from a penalty by skipper Mohamed Zharif Hasna who was earlier brought down inside the box.

A mistake by replacement goalkeeper Mohd Solehin for failing to cut off a free-kick cross from Echesa, allowed Efendi to score Betaria’s third goal with a crushing header just two minutes later.

Merzagua is hoping to give his team a finer polish when they meet Hong Kong’s Pegasus FC in their next warm-up match at the City Stadium today (8.45pm) prior to their FA Cup assignment against Police at the Hang Tuah Stadium in Malacca on Jan 25.

The FAM Cup matches will start next month.

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