Friday, 17 January 2014 | MYT 7:30 AM
Star-studded JDT favourites for new M-League season
Pablo Aimar (right) will be the player to watch in a JDT team replete with stars.
PETALING JAYA: The 2014 M-League season kicks off on Saturday with the promise of more excitement for football fans.
One reason for that is the increase in the number of foreign players from two to four (3+1 Asian).
Again, it was Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) who set the ball rolling with their big name signings, snapping up Pablo Aimar and Luciano Figueroa from Argentina and recruiting almost the entire set of national team players.
The national players in their stable include Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Mohd Amri Yahyah, Mahalli Jasuli, Asraruddin Putra, Safee Sali, Mohd Aidil Zafuan, Irfan Fazail, Mohd Fadhli Shas, S. Subramaniam, Azizi Matt Rose, Mohd Shakir Shaari and Mohd Amirulhadi Zainal.
No wonder many have made JDT the favourites to win the treble.
Who wouldn’t? They have all-round strength in depth and quality in all departments.
Unless teams like Kelantan, Selangor, Pahang, Armed Forces or even Singapore’s Lions XII (Under-23 Project squad) can raise their game a notch higher, there is every chance that JDT could run away with the Super League title.
Surprisingly Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, who coached JDT last season, doesn’t think so.
Fandi, who replaces V. Sundramoorthy as coach of the Lions XII this season, believes that JDT will not have it all their way.
“There are at least six teams capable of winning the title this season,” said Fandi during the Lions XII team launch in Singapore recently.
Despite losing stalwarts Baihakki Khaizan, Hariss Harun (JDT) and skipper Shahril Ishak (JDT II) to the Johor FA, Fandi expects his Lions XII to be among the title contenders.
He has included seniors Khairul Amri and Sufian Anuar, from Tampines Rovers and Warriors FC respectively, to guide the new inclusions roped in from the Young Lions squad who featured in the S-League last season.
The Young Lions starlets are Afiq Yunos, Raihan Rahman, Emmeric Ong, Ignatius Ang and Samuel Benjamin.
Lions XII were undefeated at home – on the artificial pitch at the Jalan Besar Stadium – last season. There is no reason they can’t repeat that feat this year.
The first big test for the Lions XII comes in Saturday’s Charity Shield match against Malaysia Cup champions Pahang at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan. The game will also serve as a Super League match, with the winners getting all three points.
Pahang are on fire after winning the Malaysia Cup last season. They have retained the bulk of the players and the addition of former Kelantan striker Dickson Nwakaeme should make them serious contenders as well.
All eyes will also be on Armed Forces, who have recruited veteran Argentine hotshot Juan Arostegui.
The striker scored 50 goals en route to guiding MPPJ FC to win the Malaysia Cup a decade ago (2003-2004).
The soldiers, under the astute guidance of former national coach B. Sathianathan, have an established and settled side and should make an impact this season.
Meanwhile, the two teams who will represent Malaysia in the AFC Cup this year – Kelantan and Selangor – will have to show character and resilience as they learn to cope with the absence of several regulars.
Both teams have been badly affected by the departure of key players.
Kelantan, the treble winners in 2012, have lost seven first team players – including Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Mohd Norfarhan Mohd – while the Red Giants will find it difficult to replace seasoned striker Mohd Amri Yahyah, who ended a 13-year stay by joining JDT.