* But days of the ‘untouchables’ numbered
* You cannot ride on past credentials – Azraai
* Only those who are committed and disciplined with team spirit will play
* International Amirizdwan Taj to make his Kelantan debut against Pahang in FA Cup match
Azraai Khor Abdullah had his reasons for not playing first choice goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and newly acquired Nigerian international Austin Amutu in the 3-2 defeat to Sarawak on Saturday.
And he drove home a strong message that the absence of the two was not the reason for the defeat in Kuching which left the Red Warriors in 10th place in the 12-team league with 10 points after 10 matches.
Instead, Azraai, a former international who took over the hot seat from Dutchman George Boateng last month, revealed that the axe will fall on some of the so called local ‘stars’ who have not been performing on the field.
“They believe they are the untouchables in the team because of past credentials. It is time to take stock of this situation because it has affected the team’s overall performance.
“The untouchables also believe they deserve a first team place even when playing below par. This will have to stop and the team will be picked only on merit to be fair to those who have shown more commitment and discipline on the field,” said Azraai from Kota Bahru on Tuesday after Kelantan resumed training for the FA Cup semi-finals.
The Red Warriors will face defending champions Pahang in the first-leg semi-final at Kuantan’s Darul Makmur Stadium this Saturday.
Kelantan slumped to a 3-2 defeat to Sarawak at the State Stadium in Kuching last week while Pahang edged Terengganu by a similar margin at home in their respective Super League matches last week. It raised some eyebrows but Azraai has his reasons.
“I was forced to keep Amutu on the bench because the ground the was heavy and I did not want him to aggravate his knee injury, because I need him more for the FA Cup (semi-final) match against Pahang.
“Khairul Fahmi needed a rest after playing in all the matches. We were playing Sarawak away and it was a perfect opportunity to play Sharizan (Ismail) in goal. We lost but he did well overall,” said Azraai from Kota Bahru on Tuesday, adding that changes could happen for the FA Cup match.
“I have discussed the matter with the management and it is time we crack the whip and show that we mean business. The players will have to pull up their socks to get into the first team.”
Azraai is also concerned with the injury picked up by Colombian striker Erwin Carrillo in the match against Sarawak but is confident that Amutu and Carrillo will be fit to play against Pahang.
National defender Amirizdwan Taj Tajuddin, a new signing during the April transfer window, will make his debut for his homestate in the FA Cup match – tightening things up in the heart of the defence. The Kota Bahru-born Amirizdwan was signed up from Armed Forces and will partner Australian Jonathan McKain.