A dream eight
Terengganu can upset Johor Darul Takzim
This is my pick of the quarter-final matches. Johor Darul Takzim are red-hot favourites to win the encounter, but if there is one team with the players who can beat any team on their day, it’s Terengganu.
The wily Abdul Rahman knows his players well and whilst their Malaysian Super League title challenge faltered late on, for once they were in the mix. Under previous coaches, that had not been the case. His more gentle style of man-management has teased the best out of his charges and, in particular, brought Ashaari Shamsuddin back to life. If you noticed, the performances in the Malaysia Cup group matches were the Ashaari of four years ago.
Besides Ashaari, his side have exciting players like Nor Farhan Muhammad, Ismail Faruqi, Manaf Mamat and Sharbinee Allawee, a goalkeeper who can be brilliant as well as erratic. At the centre of this core are Zubir Azmi and Mazlizam Mohamad, who both can provide attacking flair from the back, and Nordin Alias, who is happy to do the dirty work. There is also strength in depth with Zairo Anuar or Faiz Subri available to add to the attacking threat from the bench. Not to mention they have two of the most underrated imports in the league in Mario Karlovic and Vincent Bikana.
My belief that Terengganu may spring an upset has been stemmed, ironically, from the 4-3 loss in Johor that effectively ended their title hopes. Terengganu had swept into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes, which I remember saying in live commentary on Astro Arena that they would need to stay two ahead up to half-time. They did not and went on to concede a soft goal, a free kick that went through the wall and a cracker from Mahali Jasuli before half-time, and lose the initiative.
Then, Bikana conceded a daft penalty early in the second half, making JDT’s victory look comfortable but in truth, it was far from that. After Karlovic’s introduction as a substitute, Terengganu terrified the Southern Tigers, and were unlucky to lose because Bojan’s JDT defended in wretched fashion.
I would say the only weakness for Terengganu this season has been their lack of clinical finishing. The Turtles haven’t had the regular services of either Mustapha Dabo or Javier Estupinan and have to rely on Ashaari, Farhan and Manaf to work together – none of them is an out and out finisher. However, their performance against Sarawak in the final group match, as seen live on Astro Arena, was incredibly vibrant and augured well for the quarter-final against JDT.
Kedah the unlikely quarter-finalists
Of all ties, Kedah’s achievement in reaching the last eight with a makeshift back four has been the most remarkable one with Baddrol Bakhtiar, whose goal against Perak will live long in the memory, and Billy Mehmet being the talismans. However, even a fit again Adam Griffiths and a pumped up Alor Setar might not be enough to galvanise another huge performance from the Canaries against George Boateng’s Kelantan.
Whilst they have stuttered and stumbled in recent matches, the Red Warriors have enough big-game players to see off Kedah. It will be the biggest upset of the Malaysia Cup if they don’t.
Felda United and PDRM revitalise forgotten gems…
The two Premier League clubs plotting an upset, PDRM and Felda United, have both reinvented players who are supposedly on the scrapheap to be the spine of their Malaysia Cup challenge.
PDRM’s Muslim Ahmad was once touted as a potential rock of the Malaysian back-four until he was mauled by Alexander Duric in a World Cup qualifier against Singapore. Since then he has been on the fringes, but now is the backbone of PDRM’s back four alongside Rafael.
Sabre Mat Abu is another who has reinvented himself after being thrown into the international junkyard, and so are goalkeeper Helmi Eliza and Azizon Kadir, who have shared glove duties in a superb season for the Cops. When you include players like Rafael, Chad Souza, Mohammedou Sumerah and Ali Ashfaq, who all provide experience down the spine with brilliance from the foreign legion, the recipe to cause an upset is there.
Ditto Felda. Shukor Adan’s form for the Fighters has forced the former national team captain back into international reckoning, and the natural athleticism and football IQ of Indra Putra have always made him dangerous – whatever his age. Add Shahrulnizam from Perak and that is a trio of experienced campaigners down the spine, with the bruising brilliance of Liberians Edward Wilson and Zah Rahan’s creative genius to call upon.
… But expect Selangor and Pahang to flex their Super League superiority
Both Felda and PDRM are capable of progressing to the next round, but surely it’s the end of the road for both. Selangor, in their quest for 'Misi 33', possess a stingy defence. They also have their not-so-secret weapon, Paulo Rangel.
The Brazilian’s goals have headlined the fact that Selangor have overachieved under Mehmet Durakovic this season. They lost many of their top players to JDT during the pre-season, and the team has a forever-makeshift look about it. But the fact remains that they have been consistent – if not thrilling – all season, and will start as slight favourites against Felda.
And defending champions Pahang look to have too much for PDRM. Alhough Matias Conti's absence from selection due to suspension could hurt, Zainal Abidin can trust Dickson Nwakaeme to be responsible up front and Fauzi Roslan and co. to support him as they did in the group wins over JDT II, Felda and the LionsXII.
You couldn’t have selected four tastier Malaysia Cup quarter-finals match-ups if you’d tried. North versus South and East versus West in two ties, and traditional state sides taking on “new money” club teams in the other two.
With full house signs likely in Kuantan, Johor, Kota Bahru and Kuala Terengganu, get your tickets early as the atmosphere will be white hot in football’s third oldest football tournament. Enjoy the football, which I myself certainly will, especially to see how Pahang defender Damion Stewart cope with PDRM’s Maldivian wizard Ali Ashfaq.