KUALA LUMPUR: Defending champions Penang have been given an easy passage into what should be their third FA Cup final in four years.
In the draw made yesterday, they were pitted against the minnows of the competition as the big boys – Malaysia Cup champions Selangor, runners-up Sabah, Premier I champions Perak and Premier II winners Kedah were all drawn in the other half.
It was indeed a lop-sided draw with six former FA Cup champions - Perak (’90), Selangor (’91,’97, 2001), Kedah (’96), Kuala Lumpur (’93,’94,’99), Terengganu (2000) and Sabah (’95) – clustered in one group leaving the Panthers with only the likes of Johor and Sarawak in their half.
The other teams in Penang's half are Perlis, Johor FC and newly promoted Malacca Telekom.
Perak, who finished as runners-up last year, have a tougher route. Although, they received a bye in the first round, they are expected to meet newly-promoted Kedah in the second round. Then, they have Negri Sembilan, Kelantan or Pahang waiting for them in the quarter-finals.
If Perak continue to march on, they will have the likes of Selangor, Sabah, Kuala Lumpur and Terengganu as possible semi-final opponents.
FA of Malaysia (FAM) secretary general Datuk Dell Akbar Khan said four teams had been given automatic first round byes. They are Penang and Perak (the FA Cup finalists); and Selangor and Sabah (second and third-placed teams in Premier I). Negri Sembilan, Johor FC, Kelantan JPS and Police also had byes thanks to the luck of the draw.
The first round matches of the FA Cup competition will be played on Feb 19 with the return leg on Feb 26. The second round is scheduled for March 12/19, quarter-finals April 12/19 and semi-finals on May 10/17. The final is scheduled for May 31.
The draws for the Premier I and Premier II league fixtures were also conducted yesterday.
Penang and Selangor will play the Charity Shield match at the State Stadium in Batu Kawan on Feb 9. The tie, which had earlier been scheduled to be held in Shah Alam, will also serve as a Premier I match.
“Penang requested to host the Charity Shield. Selangor have agreed to play it in Batu Kawan,'' said Dell.
The Malaysia Cup competition will remain the same this year with 16 teams qualifying – 12 from Premier I and the top four teams from Premier II.
Premier I has been reduced to 13 teams with the pullout of NS Chempaka while Premier II has 12 teams.
Datuk Redzuan Tan Sri Sheikh Ahmad, the competitions committee chairman, said they have decided not to have playoffs for the Malaysia Cup. The Malaysia Cup competition will begin on Aug 16 and the Cup final is scheduled to be played on Oct 4.