The news that LionsXII captain and top scorer Shahril Ishak might not be fit enough to play on Saturday hardly moved Sarawak coach Robert Alberts on Thursday.
The Singapore side face Sarawak in their second Malaysia Cup Group D match on Saturday in Kuching, and speaking to The New Paper on Thursday night, Alberts insisted that Shahril is not the only reason the LionsXII clinched the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title this year.
He said: "The LionsXII have grown in experience. Of course, their captain is still one of their main players, but the team's strength is their good organisation and composure.
"The team never panic, are well balanced in all areas, and they have a very good goalkeeper (Izwan Mahbud). No difference "I don't think the LionsXII playing without Shahril makes any difference to us."
The Dutchman, 58, who led Sarawak to the Malaysian Premier League (MPL) title - the second tier competition - this season, made special mention of Izwan, when asked if he was wary of any player from the Singapore camp.
Perhaps it suggested Sarawak planned to attack the LionsXII, although Alberts declined to reveal his gameplan.The Dutchman would only say that tomorrow's match will be "a very exciting" affair.
Though still early in the tournament, the clash has become vital for both sides, after both lost ground in opening games.The LionsXII drew 22 at home against Kedah last Tuesday, while the Crocs lost 21 to Perak in Ipoh.
"This is an important game for both teams, no denying that," said Alberts, who guided Home United to the SLeague title in 1999. "There will be a great atmosphere at the Stadium Negeri... it looks like the game is going to be a soldout affair."
Despite the loss in Ipoh, the Crocs boast a home record this season that will make the LionsXII wary.
Sarawak, who were relegated from the MSL last season, won 18 and drew four matches in the MPL, scoring 49 goals and conceding just 12.
They will have a fullstrength team tomorrow, spearheaded by former Malaysian international Bobby Gonzales, the team's top scorer with 20 goals.
The secret to the Crocs' success? "They have a very good coach," Alberts joked, before adding: "The team this year are strong in harmony. They have good personalities and work for each other on the pitch, always."
He insisted his team are not overly excited about facing the MSL champions. The LionsXII, who finished second in the MSL last season, beat Sarawak 30 at home and 10 in Kuching.
But Alberts said: "I've said before that Singapore's participation in Malaysia does not raise the game here.
"The only difference is when Malaysian teams travel and play in Singapore. I could see clearly last season that the experience overwhelmed the players, some of whom had never been to Singapore. "But we have grown since then, and we are playing in Kuching. We will take the game like any other."
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