Pahang head coach Zainal Abidin Hassan during a training session prior to their FA Cup semi-final clash with JDT in May. - BERNAMA
PETALING JAYA: Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has thrown down the gauntlet to his players to defend their Malaysia Cup crown.
The defending champions have been drawn with Singapore’s Lions XII, Premier League outfits Felda United and Johor Darul Ta’zim II in Group A. Pahang have retained most of their Malaysia Cup-winning squad players from last season, and the Elephants went on to win the FA Cup by beating Felda United in the final last month.
Zainal, who was an assistant coach to Dollah Salleh when Pahang edged Kelantan 1-0 to lift the Malaysia Cup last season, said “the players need to prove that they are still hungry for success”.
“I think we’ve a balanced group and all the teams have a good chance to advance to the quarter-finals,” said Zainal after the draw at the National Sports Council in Bukit Jalil on Sunday.
“We are the defending champions, so everyone will be out to claim our scalp. It’s always harder to defend a title but we have a responsibility to retain our crown.”
The competition’s group stages will be held from Aug 13-Sept 3. It will then take a break as the national Under-23 team will be playing in the Incheon Asian Games in South Korea from Sept 19-Oct 4. The competition will resume with the quarter-finals on Oct 3.
The semi-finals will be held from Oct 24-25 and the final is scheduled on Nov 8 at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have possibly the toughest group. They are in the “group of death” with last year’s finalists Kelantan, Armed Forces and Penang.
Group B consists of Terengganu, Sarawak, Perak and Kedah while Super League runners-up Selangor are in Group D with club side Sime Darby, Premier League champions Police and T-Team.