PETALING JAYA: Three teams – Perak, Kedah and Perlis – are the front-runners to win the RM40,000 top purse under the FA of Malaysia's (FAM) cash incentive scheme for the first round of the 13-team Premier I after tonight's matches.
Defending league champions Perak, the current leaders with 24 points, will start as the favourites over the two Northern sides - Kedah and Perlis, tied on 23 points - with the Hijau Kuning outfit having the better goal average.
Only the top five finishes will receive cash incentives. With Perak, Kedah and Perlis assured of the top three slots, the race for the remaining two spots has turned into a five-horse race betwee – Pahang (19 points), Sarawak (18), Penang (17), Sabah and Malacca Telekom (16 each).
The top team in Premier I will get RM40,000 followed by RM30,000 (second), RM27,500 (third), RM25,000 (fourth) and RM20,000 (fifth).
Perak, after bowing out from the FA Cup quarter-finals losing to Negri Sembilan 1-2 on aggregate last week, will be out to make amends and look set to maintain their lead when they face a struggling Malacca side at the Hang Tuah Stadium tonight.
In fact, Perak have the easiest task compared to the two challengers. Perak will face a depleted Malacca side, who are second from bottom of the table.
Second-placed Kedah have the best defence in the league but are hit by injuries to their strikeforce. However, they should not be troubled by Sabah at the Darulaman Stadium in Alor Star while Perlis travel to the Sultan Mohamed IV Stadium in Kota Baru for the away tie against unpredictable Kelantan.
Meanwhile, Johor have won the top cash incentive of RM20,000 for Premier II at the half-way mark. The Scorpions, under German coach Karl Heinz Weigang, have a four-point lead at the top of the 12-team standings after their 1-1 draw at Kelantan SKMK last night in the final fixture of the first round. They have 26 points.
Negri Sembilan are in second spot with 22 points, on better goal difference over third-placed Selangor Public Bank. Negri will receive RM17,500 while the bankers RM15,000. Kuala Lumpur on 20 points are fourth on better goal difference over Selangor MPPJ. The City boys would receive RM10,000 while MPPJ RM5,000.