Pahang players lift the Malaysia Cup after beating defending champions and favourites Kelantan in the final at Shah Alam Stadium on Sunday night. - The STAR/ SS Kanesan
SHAH ALAM: Thank you, Matias Conti!
The Argentine’s 60th minute strike was all it took for Pahang to end their 21-year wait to lift the coveted Malaysia Cup.
Last night, at the Shah Alam Stadium, the Elephants went into the final as the underdogs but they ended the day by upstaging defending champions Kelantan 1-0 in a pulsating final.
It was a dream come true as Pahang, under the guidance of coach Dollah Salleh, went into the final as the pundits’ pick for the loser’s medal.
They had no big names in their side and none had experienced a Cup final before.
The fancied Red Warriors, on the other hand, were packed with star names and had played in four finals in the last five years.
The downpour just before kick-off failed to dampen the party-like atmosphere at the stadium.
Players from both teams found it difficult to get a grip on the game due to the wet and slippery conditions, resulting in plenty of anxious moments at both ends.
The main talking point in the first half must be referee Nagor Amir Noor Mohd’s decision to award Kelantan a penalty in the 25th minute – and then rescind it.
Kelantan striker Dickson Nwakaeme was racing with the ball into the box when Pahang defender Damion Stewart clipped his heels. The towering Dickson went tumbling into the box and Nagor immediately pointed to the spot.
The Pahang players protested and Nagor, after consulting assistant referee Mohd Kamil Tumin, awarded a freekick at the top of the box instead.
The Kelantan players were incensed!
Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak confronted the match officials during the break but security officials were quick to prevent any untoward incident.
It was obvious that the final was not just a battle between two east coast sides, but also a clash between two foreign personalities – Nwakaeme and Stewart.
The pair had their own running battle throughout the match, with Jamaican Stewart doing a great job in frustrating the Nigerian.
Pahang, clearly hungrier for success, had the better of the first half as they went on the offensive. Flankers R. Gopinathan and R. Surendren were the catalyst as they provided the incisive cut upfront but forwards Azamuddin Akil and Argentine Conti failed to capitalise on the chances.
Surendren came the closest when his fierce shot rebounded off the post in the 28th minute.
Pahang had a glorious chance to open the scoring at the start the second-half but substitute Fauzi Roslan ballooned the ball off a goalmouth melee in the 47th minute.
But Conti sent the yellow-shirted fans into a frenzy when his glancing header off Azamuddin’s cross sailed into the back of the net in the 59th minute.
That was all it took for Pahang – and their fans – to start celebrating.