# ‘Tight schedule is taking its toll on players’ – Irfan
# ‘Playing matches every three days is not conducive to football’ – Irfan
# ‘We will not let JDT run away with the title’ – Irfan
# ‘The 12th man or the 13th man in the team must deliver – Irfan
By Rizal Abdullah
Uzbek striker Lutfulla Turaev was not on coach Irfan Bakti’s mind when Super League title contenders Felda United took flight to Kota Bahru on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday’s match against Kelantan at the Sultan Mohd IV Stadium.
Turaev saw only 30 minutes of action in the Malaysia Cup match in Group D against 100PLUS Premier League side Malacca United at the Hang Jebat Stadium before being kayoed by a knee injury. Felda won 1-0.
The Uzbek underwent MRI on Tuesday and according to Irfan the player could be out for the rest of the season. However, latest reports said Turaev could be back in action in a month’s time if no surgery is required.
“Turaev is a pillar in our side and his absence is a big blow to the team. But it stops at that as we cannot harp on Turaev’s injury in our quest to win the Super League title plus an eye on the Malaysia Cup.
“Football is not a one man team, there are others who need to take over and play their role. This is where whoever the 12th man or the 13th man (reserves) comes in to play his role,” said Irfan.
Putting Turaev aside, Irfan said the battle for the Super League title is far from over although The Fighters are two points behind defending champions and leaders Johor Darul Takzim (JDT). The Southern Tigers lead with 39 points from 15 matches while Felda have 37.
“We will not let JDT to walk away with the title. The title race is still open and we will battle till the last.”
The match against Kelantan is key to the league title and Irfan believes that with seven matches to go it is “getting hotter” at the top between JDT and Felda.
Kelantan are fifth in the league standings with 17 points and have tightened things up with the arrival of Velizar Popov – the former Maldives national coach – and the Red Warriors will be a “handful” for Felda.
“I have drilled into the players that everyone in the team has a role to play, this means we have to be fully focused on getting a positive result in Kota Bahru.”
In the same breath Irfan added that the team has to stop depending on Felda’s Liberian international Forkey Doe for goals. Doe has been scoring regularly and his 13 goals in the league has put him as the top scorer in the Super League.
And playing home or away is not a bother for Irfan and company.
“Even when we are at home it is just an away game for us because we travel some 200km to Jengka. We do not fear playing away,” added Irfan.
Just like many other coaches who have slammed Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership, Irfan said: “The tight schedule is taking its toll on the players. Putting the many players who have come down with injuries the quality of the game has been affected.”