PETALING JAYA: Two Premier II club sides – Selangor Public Bank and Selangor MPPJ – are one-match away from sending two state teams packing from the first round of the FA Cup competition.
Newly-promoted Kedah face the prospect of suffering the embarrassment of being one of the Premier I sides to be knocked out after losing 1-3 to Selangor Public Bank in the first leg tie at the Selayang Municipal Council Stadium last Wednesday.
Malacca could very well join Kedah in the doldrums after being held 1-1 by Selangor MPPJ in their first leg match at the MPPJ Stadium in Kelana Jaya.
However, it is the Hijau Kuning outfit who look the most vulnerable although they will be hoping to do the almost impossible when they entertain the bankers at the Darulaman Stadium in Alor Star tonight.
The bankers were not overawed by Kedah, last year's FA Cup semi-finalists, in the first leg on Feb 19. Slovak striker Ivan Ziga scored two goals while skipper Paul Raj added the third. Kedah's consolation goal came from substitute Akmal Rizal Rakhli.
Public Bank, who had a great start to their Premier II campaign by defeating Brunei 2-0 away and holding Negri Sembilan to a 1-1 draw, suffered a big blow when they slumped to an embarrassing 2-7 mauling by Selangor MPPJ in a league match on Sunday.
Coach E. Elavarasan hoped that the players had recovered from the debacle as they would be facing Kedah in their own backyard and in front of their ardent supporters.
“The boys looked demoralised after the terrible defeat but we have to bounce back. It was one of those days, and we have to put that episode behind us. Kedah have strong support at home and they will make use of this to bring us down,'' said Elavarasan, who was obviously disappointed with his defence, which conceded seven goals, including three in the last eight minutes of the match.
Kedah are likely to start with Akmal Rizal as their other strikers Mohamed Rafdi Rashid and Che Hishamuddin Hassan are nursing long-term injuries. This leaves coach Jorgen E. Larsen with the option of switching Senegal midfielder Matar Diop and Liew Kit Kong into attacking positions.
Public Bank, who advanced into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup last year before losing to 1-8 Malacca Telekom on aggregate, will be hoping that their defence will be able to thwart the Kedah strikers.
Elavarasan is expected to field former internationals Leong Hong Seng and A. Ganeson in defence.
While Public Bank have a better chance of upsetting Kedah, Selangor MPPJ will be quietly confident of doing the same against Malacca as well.
The MPPJ side drew the first leg 1-1 at home and with striker Juan Manuel Arostegui of Argentina in prolific form, having scored eight goals in three matches, Malacca will surely have their hands full although they will have the advantage of playing the return leg at home at Stadium Hang Tuah.
Arostegui, a former Under-21 youth international, scored five goals in the team's 7-2 mauling of Selangor Public Bank on Sunday. Last week, he was on target again – bagging a hattrick in their 4-0 win over Police.
Besides Arostegui, the team also have a gem of a playmaker in 20-year-old Bruno Martelotto, a former youth player with Boca Juniors.
Should Selangor Public Bank and Selangor MPPJ clear their first round hurdles, they will face stern tests in the second round, with Public Bank down to take on Perak and MPPJ facing Selangor.
High-riding Johor, under German Karl Heinz Weigang, are also making good progress and look set to move into the second round after picking up a convincing 4-1 win over Kelantan TNB in the first round. Johor, who top the Premier II table with nine points from three straight wins, should have little problem disposing of the inexperienced TNB side to set up a second round meeting against Police.
Elsewhere, the big boys look set to dominate with Terengganu having a 3-1 advantage over Premier II Kuala Lumpur; Sarawak holding the upper hand with a 4-0 lead over Perak TKN; and Perlis up 0-2 against lowly Armed Forces.
Pahang and Kelantan are the only two teams from Premier I fighting it out for a place in the second round. Pahang have the edge over Kelantan, whom they have beaten in the last two meetings in Kota Baru in the last two weeks. Pahang thrashed Kelantan 4-0 in the league and edged them 2-1 in the FA Cup first round first leg tie.