AFTER a truncated season, no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysian football can look forward, with optimism, to a hotly contested season when it kicks off today.
Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) will, undoubtedly, be the hot favourites to romp to an eighth straight Super League title.
They have, after all, signed the cream of the crop by adding national players like midfielders Daniel Amier Norhisham and Safiq Rahim, winger Mohamadou Sumareh and Brazilian striker Bergson Da Silva.
Bergson, who is on loan from Brazilian Serie A club Fortaleza, will have four months to prove his mettle in the league. If he gets into the scoring act and with Daniel and Syafiq strutting their stuff, it would be almost impossible to knock JDT off the perch.
The pick of the teams capable of upsetting the apple cart are Kedah, Terengganu, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. Terengganu, under coach Nafuzi Zain, have signed players he believes can play the game his way – efficient ball possession and quick attacking transitions.
Playmakers Makan Konate and Petrus Shitembi will be Nafuzi’s pivotal players. Nimble but technically strong Nik Aif Syahiran will provide the link from midfield.
Kedah have kept their core foreigners like Kpah Sherman, Tchetche Kipre and Renan Alves and added top players like Rabih Ataya and M. Anumanthan Kumar. Baddrol Bakhtiar will continue to be the talisman and key playmaker for the team.
Selangor, under German coach Karsten Neitzel, have signed Perak’s top goalscorer of last season Shahrel Fikri Md Fauzi and will hope that he forms a potent partnership with last year’s Super League top scorer Ifedayo Olusegun.
Kuala Lumpur just got promoted but under the stewardship of Bojan Hodak, they will surely produce a strong challenge. The City Boys have also beefed up their squad with players like Irfan Zakaria, Kevin Ray Mendoza, Romel Morales, Daniel Ting, Dominique Da Sylva and Giancarlo Gallifuoco.
Perak and UiTM will surely be the dark horses in the title chase.
Perak, whose inspirational coach Mehmet Durakovic suddenly quit, still have the core of the team and will look to talismanic captain Shahrul Saad, winger J. Partiban, wingback Amirul Azhan Aznan, midfielders D. Kenny Pallraj and Leandro Dos Santos to lead the squad forward.
Many thought UiTM would be favourites for relegation last season, but they defied the odds and could again be the surprise package. They lost top players like Rabih, Ousmane Fane, Mark Hartmann and Gustavo Almeida, but they have brought in top replacements like Nana Poku, Abou Bakr Al Mel, Adam Reed and Dominik Picak. And they have kept French centreback Victor Nirennold who is a vital link in their team.
As for the bottom half of the table, sides like Pahang, Sabah, Petaling Jaya City and Penang will be in the mix. It would difficult to predict the potential relegation candidates. Whoever produce the right fighting spirit could just survive the drop.
In the Premier League, Sarawak United and Negri Sembilan look good for promotion while Kelantan United and Kuching City are the teams capable of pulling off a surprise or two.