PETALING JAYA: An explosive encounter is in store when Kelantan take on Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) in tonight’s FA Cup final at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.
Defending champions Kelantan need a victory to send out the message that they are not past their sell-by date and are still a force to be reckoned with in the M-League.
After amassing six trophies – including the 2012 treble (Malaysia Cup, Super League and FA Cup) – in the past three seasons, the Red Warriors have seen their standards slip this year.
The east coast state released their hold on the Super League title without much of a fight, and also experienced the embarrassing situation of other teams poaching their star players.
There will not be a better opportunity to prove they are still the king of the hill than by beating moneybags JDT.
For JDT, winning the FA Cup is crucial to cement their status as the team to beat in the M-League this year.
Having loads of money, glamour and star players mean nothing in football if it is not backed up by success on the pitch. And the best way to measure success, and keep the fans happy, is to win trophies.
With the chance of winning the Super League title almost gone, lifting the FA Cup will do wonders to the reputation of the Johor outfit who went through a major rebranding exercise this year.
Johor FA president Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has also upped the ante by promising a bumper reward for the JDT players if they win the Cup.
Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak agreed that the pressure is on JDT.
“Pressure comes from money. JDT invested more money than everybody else, so they are the ones under pressure. Kelantan’s aim is to defend the trophy and qualify again for the AFC Cup next year,” said Hodak in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
Kelantan are the in-form team heading into the final, having won their last two league matches without conceding a goal. As for JDT, they drew both their matches.
But JDT coach Fandi Ahmad believes that past results and form mean nothing in a Cup final.
“The league matches are different from a Cup final. We did not get good results in the league as it is not easy when you are scheduled to play three games, including a Cup final, in the space of seven days,” said the Singaporean, who has yet to decide on his starting 11.
“Many people say JDT were lucky to win two penalty shootouts en route to the final. But I feel that the shootout victories prove our fighting spirit and the hunger to win. There is nothing lucky about overcoming strong teams like Pahang and Selangor on the road to the final.”
Hodak has a solid defence built around national goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat. But it is in the attack that the Croatian coach has the option to tinker with his formation.
While Nigerian hitman Dickson Nwakaeme and the ever-reliable Indra Putra Mahayuddin have recovered from injury, their stand-ins Mohd Norfarhan Mohamad and Ahmad Fakri Shaarani have performed admirably.
But when it comes to firepower, JDT boast the best attack in the league.
The Southern Tigers’ formidable attacking trio of Mohd Safee Sali, Norshahrul and Argentine Leonel Nunez are unstoppable when they get it right.
Much will also depend on how JDT cope without the suspended Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak, who has been a vital cog in their defence all season.
“We cannot afford to man-mark one or two players as JDT have around five players who are capable of changing the outcome of a match,” said Hodak.
“It is going to be an entertaining final. I rate both teams’ chances at 50-50.”
Meanwhile, the police have classifield the final as a high-risk game and have declared they will tighten security to avoid any incidents between fans.
Even Sultan Ahmad Shah, the president of the FA of Malaysia, has urged fans to keep their emotions in check during the final.
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