JOHOR BARU: Pahang travel to Kota Kinabalu to face Sabah at the Likas Stadium on Saturday boosted by the availability of their four national players.
Coach Ralf Borges Ferreira will have national striker Hairuddin Omar, midfielders Juzaili Sameon and Mohd Fadzli Shaari and defender Rosdi Talib in the side for the match, which the Brazilian says is the beginning of the toughest part of the league to finish among the top six.
A top six finish in Premier I will earn an automatic berth in the eight-team Super League next year.
However, Pahang will be without national defender Subri Sulong, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Subri will also not report for training with the national senior team, who check in today to prepare for the pre-Asian Cup in October.
Pahang's last outing to East Malaysia on May 20 ended in a 1-5 defeat by Sarawak.
Just like Sabah, we are in a very precarious position in the league. It is a battle for survival for all teams. Even leaders Kedah and Perak are not in comfort zone (to finish among the top six), said Ferreira from Kuantan yesterday.
Having the national players for the match is a big boost to the team. Can you imagine playing against a team like Sabah without five key players?
We had a bad outing against Sarawak and we don't want another a similar episode in Sabah.
I have told the players to take the match like a final. The competition gets tougher from now with teams going all out to gain points, especially at home. Sabah are in the danger zone and we can expect them to come at us.
The big defeat by Sarawak saw former national goalkeeper Zuraimi Hassan losing his place in the first team to Mohamed Iqbal Mohd Suhaimi.
Iqbal has done well and I have no intention to replace him, said Ferreira.
Pahang have gone unbeaten since the defeat by Sarawak. They beat Kelantan 4-0, drew 1-1 with Perlis and defeated Terengganu 2-1.
Pahang are in sixth place with 26 points from 16 matches. Sabah also have 26 points but are one rung higher on goal difference. Leaders Kedah and Perak have played one match more and both have 33 points.