Can the Tigers tame the Elephants?

ONLINE ticket site down, tickets sold-out, fans queuing-up in stadiums and ticket touts selling fake tickets -  you know it's the Malaysia Cup final when you read these headlines!

Johor Darul Takzim's (JDT) Bojan Hodak and Pahang's Zainal Abidin Hassan will face-off in what is billed as the most anticipated clash in the Malaysia Cup final's history. Reigning champions and FA Cup winners Pahang against Super League champions JDT - who will lift the prestigious title at the Bukit Jalil Stadium?

Both Hodak and Zainal Abidin are very experienced as they have coached Malaysian clubs for many years. Last season, they faced off in the Malaysia Cup final but Hodak was with Kelantan at the time. Pahang came out victors and Hodak couldn't complete his double with the Red Warriors.

Few months later, the 43-year-old Croatian joined JDT as manager and midway through the season, he took over from Cesar Jimenez as the head coach and worked his magic with the cash-rich side.

Under him, they won the Malaysian Super League and now he wants to capture the double with the southern side but will Zainal Abidin Hassan, who is also looking to clinch his very own double, spoil his dream again?

Well, I for one would certainly expect Pahang to go all out against the star studded JDT. Any reigning champion would want to retain its title and the Elephants are no exception.

Both coaches are known for their tactics but this season, in my opinion, Hodak has been the best. He has utilised his richly assembled squad pretty well this season.

Let's look at the key players that are set to play a role in this much-awaited final.

First up is JDT's marquee player, Luciano Figueroa. He has scored 21 goals in all competitions. Based on that, to me, he is the best player for JDT this season.

The trio of Amri Yahyah, Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz have looked menacing and when the three click, they are a joy to watch! Their understanding has improved and Pahang will have to be careful with their link-up plays.

For this match, though, they are going to face a tank in the form of Damion Stewart. Stewart has played in the Malaysian league for two years and he, to me, is one of the best in the league.

Tough, menacing but quick at the same time, the former QPR centre-back is important for Pahang. Together with Razman Roslan, he forms one of the meanest centre-back partnerships in the league.

However, JDT via their social media page started their mind games with Pahang when they accused Stewart of being rough against Kedah in the semi-final and suggested that he may resort to the same technique against them. They even posted a video of him fouling JDT players in the league.

Pahang will have to use a man-to-man approach instead of zonal if they want to stop JDT's attackers. Stewart would surely love to face-off against the hardworking Figueroa while Razman will look to cut the ammunition provided by Diaz and Amri.

If Figueroa is JDT's trump card, Pahang will rely on their other "Tank", Dickson Nwakaeme, for goals.

His ability to dribble, outmuscle defenders and brilliant close control will be fun to watch in this final. The 28-year-old forward and Argentinian Matias Conti will be hard to beat on their day.

JDT will be without Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak for this match due to suspension. In his absence, Mahali Jasuli will be the right-back while Marcos Antonio Elias and Mohd Fadhli Mohd Shas will be tasked with shackling Nwakaeme and Conti. Marcos Antonio will have to be on his toes when facing Nwakaeme.

When it comes to physical battle, I'm expecting Nwakaeme to ace it but when it comes to timing and ability to read the game, Marcos Antonio is the best. The Brazilian has to utilise those attributes to out-think the Nigerian. He will surely check the Nigerian's movement and thwart passes aimed for him.

Don't forget Pahang's R speedsters, R. Gopinathan and R. Surendran. Mahali and Asrarudin Putra will have stick to them like glue if they are to stop them from causing havoc in the wings.

Pahang will surely utilise their pacy wingers but I reckon the real battle will be in the middle of the park. Who will ace it? Will it be JDT's Syakir Shaari and Safiq Rahim or Pahang's Hafiz Kamal and Faizol Hussein?

Based on form, Syakir and Safiq have the upper hand but if Hafiz and Faizol find their passing mojo, Johor shouldn't give them time and space. Hodak knows that pressing will be key to stop them and he will urge Syakir to do the "dirty" job while captain Safiq will provide the passes to his attackers.

One thing is for sure, we are in for a cracking match! Both sides have what it takes to win it but based on form and squad depth, I think JDT is going to win this one!

Love him or hate him, JDT's president Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has done wonders since taking over the state team. Just look at them - beautiful pitch and stadium, state-of-the-art training centre, star-studded side and a huge fan base! He made it happen for them!

They deserve the double this year...That is, if they win the Malaysia Cup today. Based on form and good management, both these sides deserve to be in final!

I'm going for a JDT win but most importantly, I just want to watch a good match filled with swift counter-attacks and brilliant passing movements.

All the best to both sides and to the fans in the stadium, please support responsibly! Instead of inciting violence, enjoy the match and be part of Malaysian football history!

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