THE Penang Under-19 football side are on course to qualify for the knockout stage of the FAM Youth Cup (formerly known as Milo Cup) competition this year.
Although the Under-19 competition has not reached the halfway stage yet, the Penangites have already stamped their mark and are confident of surviving the cut in the nine-team Group A.
After the home-and-away league competition, only the top four teams from Group A and B will qualify for the quarter-finals.
In their latest tie last week, Penang dominated Kelantan but could only manage a slim 1-0 victory at the Bertam Sports Complex in Kepala Batas.
Zulfahmi Roslan was the toast of the home side after guiding the ball across the goal line from close range in the 56th minute.
Until the strike, Penang looked jittery upfront and wasted numerous chances to punish the East Coast team.
The visitors made the first dangerous attempt in the ninth minute when Mohd Ailim Fahmi’s speculative effort from 35 metres rocked the Penang crossbar with goalkeeper Mohd Solehin out of position.
Penang retaliated strongly with Rafiuddin Rodin, Mohd Akmal Noor and S.Veenod having good scoring chances but were thwarted by the alert Kelantan custodian Nik Idzane Fahmi.
At the other end, Kelantan were reduced to making long range attempts and Wan Ahmad Haizzad came the closest in the 20th minute by forcing Solehin to make a fine save.
Even after taking the lead early in the second half, Penang piled on the pressure but were unable to score a second goal to calm their nerves.
The usually dependable Rafiuddin had a rare off day as he squandered several gilt-edged chances, including a simple sitter in the dying minutes of the game which he side-footed wide.
“Although we could have easily won by a bigger margin, the important factor is that we came out with all three points. It is vital for us not to drop points at home,” said team manager Tajuddin Zachariah.
The victory over Kelantan was Penang’s third in six matches. Earlier, they had beaten Perlis 1-0 and Sabah 6-0, drawn with both Perak (1-1) and Sarawak (2-2) and fell 1-2 to Kedah for the solitary defeat so far.
The other two teams in Group A are Johor and Kuala Lumpur.
“We started slowly but have found our footing and are gradually gaining momentum as the season goes on. My aim is for the squad to peak at the right time as we challenge for a top four spot to qualify for the quarter-finals,” said chief coach Rosli Ali.
“This year’s squad is made up of newcomers from the Football Association of Penang (FAP)’s Academy. Our strong point is that all 25 players in the squad are equally good and can be relied upon to deliver the goods in a match.
“We are also getting good moral support from the team management and the fans who turn up to cheer us on during home games.”
Rosli, who is in his maiden season coaching the Penang under-19 side, is aided by Mohd Halim Othman and team advisor Shukor Salleh.
PENANG: Mohd Solehin, Mohd Maz- wan Jamaluddin (Idzwan Salim), Ahmad Afif Aizuddin, Norhasrul Khamis, S.Veenod (Zu-baidi Alwi), Syed Zul Kamal, Mohd Akmal Noor, Zulfahmi Roslan (Muhd Naim Naseer), Muhd Rafiuddin Rodin, Tan Wei Yeek, Jafrizul Aswan.
KELANTAN: Nik Idzane Fahmi, Mohd Faizul Abdullah, Abdul Latiff Suhaimi (Hasbi Husin), Mohd Zulhasmi Nasir, Asraf Rosli, Famirul Asraf, Mohd Ailim Fahmi, Wan Ahmad Aizzad, Muhd Norhafizie, Muhd Hafizuddin Zul, Mohd Rosli Bongsu.