Selangor injury crisis my biggest challenge yet – Zainal
It was a problem that few expected Zainal to face at Selangor – unlike his predecessor Mehmet Durakovic, who constantly highlighted the fact he had a thin squad, the former began the season with a wide array of talent to choose from.
Squad depth was expected to be the least of the Malaysia Cup winners' problems given they were no major departure from the club, while Zainal added former Pahang quartet of Khairul Azhan Khalid, Razman Roslan, Hafiz Kamal and R. Gopinathan.
The former international also boasted having options for every position, enabling player rotation to keep the squad fresh.
However, even the most pessimistic of fans would not have expected to see six players out just two matches into the season.
I am concerned how the players will link-up when I reshuffle the side for the cups
Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, who made the left wing position his last year, is out injured after being forced off in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) opener against Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) on Saturday. To make matters worst, his replacement Gopinathan got injured the 1-0 win over Perak on Tuesday.
Fringe winger Fitri Syazwan Raduwan is a long-term absentee due to a reccurring knee injury, leaving Zainal with a selection headache. Star man Andik Vermansyah – the only available winger – can play on the left but that will leave a void on the right flank.
Robert Cornthwaite, Nazmi Faiz Mansor and Mauro Olivi are also out injured and remain doubtful for the AFC Cup group stage opener against Ceres in Bacolod, Philippines next Tuesday. All six have been ruled out of Friday’s FA Cup round 2 match against Air Asia at the Paroi Stadium.
“This is the biggest challenge I’ve faced at Selangor thus far,” Zainal told FourFourTwo.
“I expected some knocks here and there during the first game because going against an opponent like JDT motivates everyone to go that extra mile. Injuries are normal in such battles.
“But now I am concerned how the players will link-up when I reshuffle the side for the FA Cup and AFC Cup. Hazwan is out for two-three weeks while I cannot put a time frame for Fitri yet. I’m hoping the rest will be available for the AFC Cup.
“My options for the left are youngster Adam Nor Azlin or converting the full-backs. But that leaves me with another problem as I may have to break the already solid defence.”
Zainal refuted suggestions he could not have asked an easier opponent than Air Asia to test his reshuffled line-up. Air Asia play in the third-tier semi-professional FAM League.
“You cannot take your eyes off things at Selangor. It will always be challenging and full of expectations. No games are easy because everyone wants to beat Selangor,” the trainer added.
“And this next match is no different. In fact, Cup ties can be much tougher. Small teams have nothing to lose and will fight hard. There is no such thing as this being a match to test our reshuffling.
"We have to get it right.”
Main photo: Asiana.my