IPOH: It’s best for Premier I leaders Perak to tread with caution when they take on Negri Sembilan, a Premier II outfit, in their FA Cup quarter-final first-leg match at the Hang Tuah Stadium in Malacca today.
Perak skipper Ahmad Shahrul Azhar said it would be a folly to underestimate Negri because of their 0-1 defeat at home by Johor in a Premier II tie on Sunday.
“We definitely cannot under-rate them although they are in Premier II. The fact that we are the leaders in Premier I and have been unbeaten so far will spur them on to beat us.”
Shahrul, a former national skipper, said tonight’s clash would be more or less a grudge tie as several ex-Perak players are in the Negri side.
Among them are skipper Khairul Anuar Baharom, midfielders Azrul Burhan Amri and Aiman Wong.
“These players will most certainly spill their guts out to help Negri beat us. We have to be extra careful and be on our toes for the full 90 minutes if we want to finish the game on a positive note.
“Many teams would love to beat us but it will not be easy. They have to work extra hard,” added Shahrul, who also played for Negri in 1996 and 1997.
Shahrul, who saw action against Johor FC on Tuesday after missing the earlier three matches due to injuries, said Perak must play as a team if they want to win tonight.
Perak coach Toni Netto is confident that Perak will be able to subdue Negri for a good result for the return-leg on April 19.
“All they need is to reproduce the performance and fighting spirit displayed in their 2-1 win over Johor FC on Tuesday,” said Netto.
Even the absence of attacking midfielder Indra Putra Mahayuddin, who is in training with the national pre-Olympic squad, did not dampen the confident mood of Netto because he has several good options as replacement.
There is the experienced Yusri Che Lah, who showed a return to form after a disappointing performance against Johor FC, and youngster Ahmad Norafandy Yatim to pick from.
Norafandy, making his debut for Perak this season, has been very impressive in the earlier matches. But a leg injury saw him missing the last four matches.
“He is back and raring to play but I might start without him. If the need arises, I will definitely throw him into the fray. It will depend on the match situation,” said Netto.