PENANG Panthers’ FA Cup dream was crushed by defending champs Pahang but at least the Panthers put up a good fight before their fans.
A big crowd began streaming into City Stadium in Penang two hours before kickoff.
Packed like sardines, the fans very much enjoyed the Panthers’ display in the second half.
Not even the thunderstorm at the tail end of the match last Wednesday managed to wash away their support for the Panthers.
After trailing 0-2, Penang gallantly produced two late strikes through their Brazilian ace Hilton Moreira to deny Pahang an outright win in the second leg of the FA Cup quarter-final match.
But the 2-2 draw was not enough for Penang to overturn the two-goal deficit they sustained from the first leg clash at the Darulmakmur Stadium on April 7 in which they lost to Pahang 2-4.
But it was enough for the Penang fans who gathered outside the stadium after the match, singing and thanking the Panthers for their spirited performance.
Pahang will face east coast rival Kelantan in the semi-finals.
Kelantan lived up to their Red Warriors nickname by easily gunning down Sime Darby FC 3-0 in their second leg quarter-final clash at the Sultan Mohamed IV Stadium in Kota Baru to confirm their semi-final ticket with a 4-1 aggregate win.
The other semi-final will be between Terengganu and Singapore Lions XII.
Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan, though disappointed in his team’s failure to come away an outright winner at the City Stadium, was delighted they managed to keep their title defence on track.
“We knew Penang could be a tough nut to crack before their home fans.
“We came prepared and with a strategy to defuse what they had in store for us,” said Zainal who is a former national striker.
“I am proud everything worked according to plan.
“We absorbed the assault from Penang and countered them with early goals to defuse their marauding ways.
“My only disappointment is our lack in discipline which allowed Penang to hit home two soft goals at the tail end of our showdown,” he added.
With a two-goal deficit to erase, it was not a surprise when the Panthers came out breathing fire and hunting for goals right from the start.
They forced two quick corners to signal their intentions but were unable to score.
What made the difference between the two sides was the lethal finish Pahang commanded.
They received an early 6th minute lead when their Nigerian hitman Dickson Nwakaeme drilled home a powerful shot after flanker R. Gopinathan fed him with a measured grounder cross from the left.
Nwakaeme beat Penang goalkeeper Sani Anuar Kamsani again just five minutes later through a goal he scored from a goalmouth melee.
Pahang’s dominance of the first half completely silenced the home fans as the Panthers never really had a good look at goal.
It was only after Penang returned for the second half with fresh instructions from their Brazilian coach Jacksen Ferreira Tiago that they finally managed to break the duck.
As Zainal opted to give his Nigerian ace a break after the breather, Penang were allowed some room to breathe.
Their relentless approach, which brought cheers from the home fans, paid dividends in the 75th minute when Moreira scored from a free kick.
In the 87th minute, Moreira scored again for the equaliser.
Quarter-finals (2nd leg matches played last week).
Kelantan 3 Sime Darby FC 0 (Kelantan won on 4-1 aggregate)
Perak 0 Terengganu 2 (Terengganu won on 3-1 aggregate)
Penang 2 Pahang 2
(Pahang won on 4-2 aggregate)
Johor Darul Ta'zim 0 Lions XII FC 2
(Lions XII won on 4-0 aggregate).