Pahang captain Jalaluddin Jaafar (left) and Kelantan captain Mohd Badhri Radzi face-off at the press conference at the Shah Alam Stadium ahead of the big Malaysia Cup final on Nov 3, 2013. – Bernama Photo
PETALING JAYA: There is an air of confidence in both the Kelantan and Pahang camps ahead of Sunday night’s tantalising Malaysia Cup final at the Shah Alam Stadium.
Defending champions Kelantan and Pahang have declared state holidays respectively on Monday. Hungry-for-success Pahang believe their 21-year wait for the Malaysia Cup will soon be over.
This is the first meeting between the two east coast sides in the 92-year history of the Malaysia Cup competition, which goes way back since the HMS Malaya Cup in 1921. It will be a sea of red and yellow with more than 80,000 fans witnessing this historic clash.
On paper, consistent Kelantan hold the edge having maintained the core of the team, who qualified for the Malaysia Cup final four times in the last five years (since 2009).
Croatian coach Bojan Hodak, who guided Kelantan to the treble last season, has a winning side led by an explosive set of attacking players – influential skipper Mohd Badhri Radzi, Mohd Norfarhan Mohd and the inspirational Indra Putra Mahayuddin.
The trio together with several other key hands – national goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, centreback Azizi Matt Rose, rightback Farisham Ismail and playmaker Shakir Shaari – are the stalwarts who helped Kelantan win the Malaysia Cup for the first time in 2010.
Who can forget Indra Putra’s spectacular goal in their 3-2 win over Armed Forces during extra-time in last year’s Malaysia Cup final?
Indra Putra, who has played in more than seven Cup finals in his colourful career has high regards for the Pahang side.
“You can never rule out Pahang,” warned Indra.
“I have played in numerous Cup finals and believe me, it is always a different ball game. There is no such thing as favourites or underdogs in a Cup final. The team who raise their game on Cup final day will win,” said the former international.
Surprise package Pahang have made heads turn despite surviving the cut in the Super League playoffs last season.
They have no stars nor any big names compared to Kelantan but Pahang believe the time has come for them to win the crown for their fans.
Pahang coach Dollah Salleh credited the team’s success largely to their passionate Pahang FA president Tengku Muda of Pahang, Tengku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ahmad Shah, who initiated the project squad Shahzan Muda FC in 2000.
“We can now see the results,” said Dollah.
Six of Pahang’s first team players are from Shahzan Muda. They include national striker Mohd Azamuddin Akil, flankers R. Gopinathan, R. Surendren, goalkeeper Mohd Khairul Azhan Khalid, defender Mohd Shahrizan Salleh and midfielder Mohd Hafiz Kamal.
Substitute Mohd Fauzi Roslan, who scored the equaliser in Pahang’s 1-1 draw against Sarawak in the crucial return-leg of the semi-finals, is also a product of Shahzan Muda.
Dollah believes the birth of Shahzan Muda FC was the start of better things to come for Pahang football.
“It will be the icing on the cake for all the efforts of the president and the players if we can bring home the Malaysia Cup,” said Dollah.
But it is easier said than done.
Pahang will have to watch out for the “tank” Dickson Nwakaeme – a powerful striker who can bulldoze his way through with his swift turns in the box. Damion Stewart, Pahang’s pillar of strength in defence, will be given the task to stop Dickson.
Who will win, it? It is anyone’s guess.