Liberian striker Edward Junior Wilson (right) will be counted on to bring in goals for Felda United in the Malaysia Cup campaign. -Bernama
GEORGE TOWN: Felda United coach Irfan Bakti is thanking his lucky stars that none of his players were involved in the national team’s friendly against Tajikistan last Friday.
Irfan is glad to have his full squad with him at all times to prepare for Wednesday’s tricky opening Malaysia Cup Group A tie against Lions XII at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore.
Established Felda players like Mohd Shukor Adan and Indra Putra Mahayuddin did not receive call-ups for new national coach Dollah Salleh’s first assignment, which ended in a 4-1 defeat in Dushanbe.
“In a tournament like the Malaysia Cup, doing well in the first game is always important to boost the players’ confidence,” said Irfan.
“I am glad that there were no disruptions in our preparations, especially since none of my players were called up for the national assignment.”
With the reigning Malaysia Cup and FA Cup holders Pahang also in the group, Irfan realises that the two matches against Lions XII will be vital for Felda’s hopes of making the quarter-finals.
Felda, a Premier League side, have not played at the Lions’ artificial pitch this year. But Irfan believes the playing surface will not be a problem for his players.
The fourth team in Group A are Premier League side Johor Darul Ta’zim II.
“Although Felda have not played at the Jalan Besar Stadium, most of my players have played there with their previous teams and are familiar with the pitch conditions. We have also trained at the MSN (National Sports Council) artificial pitch in Kuala Lumpur and also the synthetic ground in Kuala Terengganu to prepare for the match.
“We have studied the Lions’ game, and are ready to take them on,” said Irfan.
Besides the experience of Shukor and Indra, Felda will be relying on their 28-goal partnership of Liberian duo Edward Junior Wilson and Zah Rahan Krangar to get the goals.
Felda have enjoyed a successful season this year, finishing second in the Premier League to win promotion to the Super League next year, and reaching the FA Cup final before going down 2-1 to Pahang.
Said Irfan: “We have been set a semi-final target in the Malaysia Cup but I am not looking too far ahead yet. Our immediate target is to get a top two finish in the group to qualify for the knockout stage. My prediction is that Felda will get through alongside Pahang from Group A.”
Felda’s previous best finish in the Malaysia Cup is a pair of quarter-final appearances in 2011 and 2012.