The Sampai Mati Kuala Lumpur faithful missed him! The team missed him! And boy oh boy, what a display he put on to tell the world he is back! The Colombian hunter is firing again and the high flying Rhinos of Sabah were gunned down in Cheras on Saturday off Romel’s double kill, a goal in each half that saw off the challenge from the Bornean side for the City Boys to register our second win in the league and our second straight clean sheet, following victory over Melaka Utd the previous week.  


Going into this match, confidence was high in the squad from that morale boosting result against the Hang Tuah, more so with Romel strongly indicating that he was on the mend during the 80 minutes he had, plus the anticipated return of Zhafri and Koubemba to the first eleven.  Furthermore, we had not lost in six past meetings with the Sabahans and we were also keen to extinguish the doubters and naysayers who thought the conquest of Melaka Utd was just a flash in the pan, coming only courtesy of their off field issues and being shorn of their three foreign players.  There was plenty for us to prove but everyone in the Red & White knew that the 2022 side from the Land Below The Wind was a different team that had plenty of quality all over, being led by a more than able coach in Ong Kim Swee.    


Head coach Bojan, spotting the famous orange bip for only the second time this season, made only one change to the line-up that brought success the last time out, as expected replacing Hadin, with the fit again Zhafri, his seventh different set-up this year.  There was no room for Koubemba though, perhaps still feeling the effects of his hamstring injury.  Mendoza once again was counted upon in between the sticks, while in defence, the Croatian persevered with the four man wall of Gallifuoco and Irfan at the centre, Declan and Kamal Azizi on the left and right respectively, a combination he has kept faith with for the past three matches.  Akram was given the enforcer task to protect the defence, with Partiban on his left and Zhafri on his right.  Upfront skipper Paulo Josue partnered Romel, with Ryan just behind the attacking two in what seemed like a slight adjustment of the 4-3-3 formation to a 4-3–1-2.


Sabah, buoyed by the presence of a large contingent of their supporters, immediately got into business from the start, eager to keep their 100% away win record going with success here in the capital, after triumphing in earlier travels to Malacca City and Kuching.  They had their first look at our goal within 3 minutes, English heritage midfielder Stuart Wilkins near our corner flag down the left, played back a pass to the completely unmarked Tommy Mawat waiting outside our box.  Akram rushes to close him down, before he squeezes in a shot that dipped wickedly into the top corner, but Mendoza’s safe hands were there to claim it from causing undue trouble. Perhaps the sting of the shot was taken away by our No.14’s challenge?        


The opening exchanges then saw us struggle to gain a real footing with The Rhinos having plenty of the ball to the delight of their cheering fans who created quite an atmosphere in the Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium, though not causing us too much worry.  On the other hand, whenever we took possession, we quickly squandered it, giving the ball away cheaply with misplaced passes.  Our range in the opening minutes was not like it usually is, maybe we just took a little longer to settle down?


Sabah once again threatened on the quarter hour mark.  Rawilson Batui launches a throw-in from the halfway line to Taiki Kagayama down the left.  The Japanese forward fortuitously glides past Gallifuoco who goes down clutching his right ankle, and with all the City Boys players appealing to the opponent to stop for fair play, Kagayama lifts the ball over our retreating defence to meet his captain Badrol Bakhtiar’s run into the box.  The 34 year old veteran showed that his quick feet has yet to desert him despite his age and pressure from Declan, taking a touch with his right and then unleashing a shot with his left that threatened to sneak inside the left upright but Mendoza’s right leg was there to save our day, pushing it out for a corner.  


Both teams canceled each other in creating goal scoring chances, the midfield sector at this stage of the game resembled a war of attrition with neither side gaining a stronghold though Sabah just shaded by having more of the ball.


It took the City Boys 35 long minutes to fashion our first look at goal, and from that contentious free kick for a foul by Rawilson on Zhafri down the right, Paulo Josue, first time finding his true range in this game, swung in a dipping ball into the danger zone inside the box.  Romel leapt highest and his flicked-on backwards header found the net, with national custodian, Khairul Fahmi completely stranded in Sabah’s goal.  Ong, incensed by the referee’s decision for the free kick, vehemently protested from his technical area, but to no avail.  


Halftime we led 1-0.  


Sabah who were occupying the second spot in the league prior to this encounter, came out with all guns blazing for the second half.  They upped the tempo of the game and four minutes after the break, they had another chance to score.  Wilkin once again down the left, delivers a pinpoint cross to the top of the box that was met by the unpicked Kagayama’s header, teed-up to invite his teammate South Korean Park Tae Soo for a volley that went wide off our left post, much to our relief.  


Roared on by their nearly 1,000 strong voices, The Rhinos grew bolder.  Barely a minute from the preceding attempt, again they came close looking for the equaliser.  Badrol went down the right channel, and sent in an early cross to the left.  Rawilson, arriving late, collected the ball just outside the box and powers a near post shot from inside the box that Mendoza comfortably gathered.    


Romel almost punished some lackadaisical defending by Dominic Tan in the 56th minute when the latter messed up a routine clearance from Ryan’s long ball within our own half, gifting our 24 year old hitman a chance to double our lead.  However, after twisting and turning, four five times outside the six yard box, he hits into the side netting despite having Zhafri and Paulo Josue as options.


Six minute forward, Park had a chance from 25 metres out.  Reacting first to a loose ball after Gallifouco’s interception in the box prevented Amri Yahyah from setting up another Sabahan from striking, his effort sailed above the crossbar, though his claim for a corner was waved away by the referee.


Sabah’s best chance to draw level came in the 68th minute, forcing Mendoza to produce not one, but two world class saves in rapid succession to deny them.  In a sweeping move from left to right, which began in our territory, Kagayama picked up the ball and turned inside to create space for himself, hammering a low shot from 20 metres that skimmed off the wet surface from the downpour late in the evening, almost certainly heading into goal, if not for our custodian who parried it, only to fall into the path of Nazirul Naim who could do no wrong with just the Filipino-Dane to beat, but there was the priceless right foot of our hero of the match, stopping his shot and keeping our lead intact.  Nazirul had a second stab with his header from the rebound but Irfan got it to safety.


Koubemba, who came in for Partiban with 20 minutes to spare, could have settled the matter beyond doubt much sooner in the 85th minute.  Operating on the flank, his preferred position, a long ball from deep finds him on the right.  He does well to control and run with it, though the Sabah leftback recovers possession temporarily only to stumble, giving the ball to the Congelese.  The latter takes two touches, cutting into the box, before letting fly with the outside of his boot.  Khairul repels the strike with his arms, the rebound falls directly to Romel and with a gaping goal to tuck the ball home, he skies the shot.


Thankfully we did not have to pay the price for that miss as two minutes later, Romel made no mistake to make it 2-0 with his second goal of the match.  Irfan thrashed a clearance from our penalty box all the way beyond the centre circle, and again Dominic was into some suicidal defending, getting his timing all wrong up in an attempt to backpass to Khairul behind him.  The 1.88 metre tall striker gleefully accepted the gift, changed direction and ran past the far advanced Khairul who left his position, to slot home into an empty goal, and continued his celebratory run to the Sampai Mati Kuala Lumpur faithful at pool end C Stand.      

Once again the referee’s final whistle was greeted with cheers of approval and celebrations from the Sampai Mati Kuala Lumpur fans, breaking out into song as the team thanked them.  Sabah were missing their Brazilian striker Neto Pessoa, but we should not let that bother us.  Hey did we not face all of this too?  Injuries, suspensions, Covid-19 and whatever not, are part and parcel of the game, the new normal they say.  As opposed to the performance against the Hang Tuah, this time the City Boys produced a patient and disciplined display that had us at times biting our fingernails especially in the second half, but we survived this big test to register our second win in the league, and another clean sheet.  


Next up, we go on the road to another high flying team, unbeaten Negeri Sembilan, last season’s Premier League winners, who edged Sabah in Likas on the opening day, and also got the better of us in our defence of the pre-season Federal Territories Minister’s Cup.  Will Koubemba be fully fit by then? Will Kenny return? Is our team getting more settled as the season progresses? Exciting is it not? Onwards and upwards we shall!    


Kuala Lumpur City vs Sabah : 1 Mendoza (GK), 4 Kamal Azizi, 9 Gallifuoco, 12 Declan (66’ 66 Nabil), 17 Irfan (90+2’ 33 Muhammad), 6 Ryan (70’ 27 Hadin), 16 Partiban (70’ 11 Koubemba), 14 Akram, 7 Romel (90+2’ 37 Haqimi), 8 Zhafri (46’ 8 Zhafri), 28 Paulo Josue (C)
Subs Not Used: 44 Azri G. (GK), 25 Anwar, 29 Shaqirin, 30 Fakrul


Referees : Tuan Mohd Yaasin bin Tuan Mohd Hanafiah; Assistants : Mohd Khairul Nizam Radzali, Muhammad Shafiq bin Ahmad Said; Fourth Official : Jeevanathan M. Pooniamoorthy


Attendance: 1,601





He told The Voice of City Boys: 


Thank you for the HOTM title. I am very grateful! But I think we all played a solid performance. Mainly I think we fought hard and our subs came in and did a really good job too!




To watch the highlights of this match, please click https://youtu.be/7x2gPODnMmg


To watch the complete match, please click https://youtu.be/glcYsfHJnN4




Information on tickets will be informed nearer to the match.


For Season Ticket Holders (B2 City Boys), enjoy access to Away tickets (Contact Shamim for details)    



Prepared by The Voice of The City Boys