PETALING JAYA: Melaka are the heavy favourites in this year’s Razak Cup after having won it four times. And naturally, expectations are there for them to win again.
But coach Azrul Effendy Bistaman (pic) is setting a lower target in the meet scheduled from Sept 18-26 at the National Hockey Stadium in Bukit Jalil as he believes the competition will be tougher this season with the inclusion of national players.
Last year, the team led by Azrul won the tournament by beating fellow southern side Johor 3-1 in the final. They also had won it in 2005,2009 and 2015.
This year’s tournament will be played in a single division format without age barriers. Last year, national players were barred, and each team had to register four Under-21 players.
For a start, Azrul said it would be an achievement to reach the semi-finals.
With most of the teams bolstered by national players, Azrul said the race for the title could be unpredictable.
“Terengganu and Perak have lots of national players in the team. As for the others, we do not know their strength yet, ” said Azrul, who played for Melaka in the Razak Cup during his playing days.
“Of course, it will be great to defend the title we won last year, but first, we are looking at the semi-final spot.
“I have told the boys to stand tall even when they face teams with more national players than us. Our trump card will be teamwork.
“We have started our fitness session via virtual platforms. As for friendlies and training on the field, we’re still waiting for directives from authorities.
Melaka will have three national players – midfielders Mohd Faid Farhadh Mohd Shah, Mohd Firdaus Omar and Nor Ashraf Izhar – and they will be captained by former international B. Namasivayam.
Although 12 of their players are below 21, Azrul said he expects them to learn from the national players and seniors.
“We have a young core, and all they need is the experience and guidance. Last season, we had players like Nama and Amirullah (Zainol) guiding the youngsters, ” he said.
“These youngsters will be playing for the state in the Sukma (Malaysian Games) next year, so the Razak Cup will be a good platform for exposure for them against some of the best in the nation.”
A total of 15 teams will battle it out for the title, with Sabah making a return after a four-year lapse while Sarawak opting to stay out.