Macarthur FC training at Campbelltown Stadium ahead of the clash with Sabah FC. Photo Credit: Poletti/The Inner Sanctum

Macarthur will be aiming to secure their slot in the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Final when they take on Malaysian side Sabah Football Club on Tuesday night.

Macarthur will be coming in to the match on the back of a 1-0 league victory over the previously undefeated Melbourne Victory, and coach Mile Sterjovski says that it is good to be back playing in an AFC match.

“It’s an important one for us against a good opponent,” Sterjovski said.

“[We’re] looking forward to the match and hoping we can get a good result.”

Club captain Ulises Davila was rested for Saturday’s game and it has been part of a strategy this season after he suffered a season-ending injury last year.

“From the beginning we spoke about that after the injury last year,” Davila said.

“We tried to be smart with my body, with my knees, so I’m happy with how Mile [has] managed me.”

When asked if Macarthur had identified any sort of weakness the side could exploit during the game, Sterjovski was quick to praise his opposition and the competition as a whole.

“It’s hard to say weaknesses. Every team that has made it this far is a quality team, so we don’t fear any opposition but we respect each opposition.

“I think every team that’s made it this far is very good.

“We’re going to have to be at the top of our game to win tomorrow night.” 

Macarthur made multiple signings to end the transfer window, bringing in former Macarthur player Walter Scott, New Zealand international Tommy Smith, and signing Ariath Piol to a scholarship deal after his 2023 season with the Bulls FC Academy in the NPL NSW Men’s competition.

“Walter’s a player that’s been at our club in the past so it was easy for him to settle in,” Sterjovski said.

“Ivan [Vujica] has been doing a great job this year. We just needed a bit of cover there.

“Tommy Smith is an international. He brings a lot of experience to the squad and we feel in the back end of the season we’re going to need that. 

“We’re going to need help from all our squad, like we have already this season with the scheduling we’ve had.

“They all bring their own qualities and experience to the team.”

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For Macarthur’s opposition Sabah FC, they have a huge challenge ahead of them having not played a competitive game since the Malaysian Super League ended in December.

Sabah’s coach, Ong Kim Swee, described the challenge of being in pre-season and playing in a knockout game as difficult.

“Our league ended last year, December 17, and we don’t have a single game until tomorrow,” he said.

“While Macarthur have [had] eight games this year, seven games unbeaten, and definitely they are looking very good in the league.

“It’s not going to be easy, but we have most of our core players are still together.

“I think we can show a good performance tomorrow.”

Sabah FC coach Ong Kim Swee and midfielder Telma Castanheira at the pre-match press conference. Photo Credit: Poletti/The Inner Sanctum

Sabah does have an Australian connection through the club’s technical director Scott Ollerenshaw.

When asked whether he had been providing any sort of insight, Ong Kim Swee said “he’s not helping me at all,” which elicited laughter from the attending media before continuing on with his answer.

“Of course. I’ve been working with Scott for a very long time. It helps a lot.

“Of course I have other friends in Australia.

“I’m kind of familiar with the way, the style, but definitely it helps a bit.” 

Sabah midfielder Telma Castanheira said that everyone on the team was excited to be in Australia but that the side wants to show off their quality.

“We are playing [in] an international competition. We are representing Sabah in Australia right now, and also in Malaysia,” Castanheira said.

“It’s big, it’s important, and [it] gives us more responsibility to perform and [to] give our best.”

Macarthur FC host Sabah FC in the AFC Cup Zonal Semi-Finals at Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Tuesday night at 6pm AEDT. The game can be watched on 10Play.

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