PETALING JAYA: Hang in there, boys!
Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan knows that his men are exhausted from all that travelling and playing.
But he needs them to give another Herculean effort On Saturday.
Already through to the AFC Cup last 16 following their 0-0 draw with Global FC of the Philippines on Wednesday, Pahang will play Kelantan at the Sultan Mohd IV Stadium in Kota Baru Saturday for a place in the final of the FA Cup.
Pahang wrapped up their AFC Cup campaign by finishing second in Group G, behind South China of Hong Kong.
“They are physically and mentally worn out ... I have only two days to whip them back into shape. There are tired legs out there compared to Kelantan. I’ve told my players to stay strong and give it another go in Kota Baru,” said Zainal from Manila.
The Elephants are going great guns on all three fronts – Super League, FA Cup and AFC Cup – this season.
They top the 12-team Super League standings with 20 points from 10 matches. In the FA Cup, they head into the return-leg of the semi-finals with a one-goal cushion, having won the first-leg 1-0 in Kuantan. In the AFC Cup, they will face Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia in the last 16 on May 26.
The tight playing schedule aside, the Pahang players could not take any time off during the seven-week league break from May 6-June 20 either.
Many of their players were either with the national Under-23 squad preparing for the Singapore SEA Games (May 30-June 16) or with the national senior team training for the pre-World Cup (beginning from June 11).
But that hasn’t stopped Zainal from dreaming of taking Pahang all the way to the AFC Cup final.
“It’s a huge task ... no Malaysian team have qualified for the final since 2004. I’m glad we made it to the next round but it’s going to be more difficult because of the tight playing schedule,” he said.
“The players have worked hard in all three competitions and it’ll be a waste if we win nothing because of the tight fixtures.
“As it is, we’ve already played 11 matches in 40 days in all competitions.”
He certainly has a point. The FA Cup final is on May 23. Three days later, they will meet Persipura in the AFC Cup last 16.