Lee Seng Foo analyses the upcoming 2014 Oppo Malaysia Cup final between Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) and holders Pahang.
Pahang 3-2 JDT (Malaysian Super League, February 7)
JDT 1-1 Pahang (Malaysian FA Cup semi-finals first leg, May 5)
JDT 2-2 Pahang (Malaysian Super League, May 16)
Pahang 1-0 JDT (Malaysian FA Cup semi-finals second leg, May 30)
JDT's last 5 games
3-1 Felda United (October 25)
3-4 Felda United (October 20)
3-1 Terengganu (October 16)
0-0 Terengganu (October 3)
3-0 Kelantan (September 2)
Pahang's last 5 games
5-0 Kedah (October 24)
1-3 Kedah (October 19)
2-1 PDRM (October 11)
1-1 PDRM (October 3)
1-1 JDT II (September 2)
This Saturday's Oppo Malaysia Cup final will see the 2014 Malaysian Super League champions taking on the 2014 Malaysian FA Cup winners, who are also the Malaysia Cup holders, at the newly refurbished Bukil Jalil National Stadium. Can you ask for a better backdrop to conclude this year's Malaysian football season than that? Highly doubt it.
Pahang will want to win their fourth trophy in a year (after 2013 Malaysia Cup, 2014 Charity Shield and 2014 FA Cup, in case you forgot) and become the first team to defend the Malaysia Cup since Kedah did it in 2008, while JDT will be aiming to do a league and cup double for the first time in their short history after being rebranded from Johor FC in 2013.
If we look at past results, Pahang boast the more promising head-to-head record. In their four meetings in the league and FA Cup this season, the Elephant Army won two and drew two, which may give them a psychological advantage.
JDT, however, can take pride in having the more difficult route to the final, facing three Super League sides on their road to final – Kelantan, ATM and Terengganu. Pahang, on the other hand, faced only one top division team, the LionsXII in the group stages, and were made to work in the knockout rounds against Malaysian Premier League sides PDRM and Kedah.
And despite facing more teams from the Premier League, Pahang have scored one less goal and leaked in five more goals than their southern neighbours in the tournament, which is something JDT will definitely be keeping an eye on.
Dickson Nwakaeme vs. Marcos Antonio
The absence of JDT captain Aidil Zafuan Radzak, who will miss the final after getting his second yellow card in the semi-finals second leg against Felda United, means that Marcos Antonio is most likely to be picked to be his replacement. It is really a no-brainer because the Brazilian defender has done well since replacing Baihakki Khaizan, but he will face the mammoth task of marking Dickson Nwakaeme.
With six goals to his name - the same number of goals as Matias Conti - Nwakaeme is arguably one of Pahang’s best players in the tournament. His absence was particularly felt when he missed the semi-finals first leg against Kedah due to match suspension as Pahang lost 3-1. On his return in the second leg, he immediately helped his team to achieve a 5-0 victory.
Furthermore, the Nigerian's physicality is something the local defenders have found difficult to cope with. Marcos, who enjoys the physical aspect of football as well, will play a crucial role in stopping him.
R. Gopinathan vs. Mahali Jasuli
After being picked ahead of Daudsu Jamaluddin in the crucial second leg against Felda, Mahali should retain the starting spot in the final. While his attacking runs from the back could help his team offensively, he might need to curb it to prevent getting exposed by Gopinathan, who has been in lethal form this season. The winger dubbed “the most talented player right now” by former national player K. Sanbagamaran has pace to burn and is not afraid to take on any defenders, so Mahali has to stay alert all the time.
Zesh Rehman vs. Jorge Pereyra Díaz
Rehman, who did not start in the resounding 5-0 win over Kedah in the semi-finals second leg, should return to the starting XI to partner former QPR team-mate Damion Stewart and try to keep Díaz in his pocket, something not many defenders have successfully done this season. The Argentine, who was selected in our MSL Team of the Year, has been instrumental since joining the Southern Tigers last April and actually gave the Pahang defender a torrid time during their last league meeting. Coupled with Diaz's terrific partnership with Luciano Figueroa, Rehman could be in for a busy night.
What they said
Dollah Salleh, Malaysia head coach: “JDT have strong individual players, but they do not look impressive as a team compared to Pahang, who looked more organised.” (FourFourTwo)
Datuk Soh Chin Aun, former national player: “I can see that JDT strikers are really good and they can play well against Pahang. The only thing that they need to do is to have full commitment from every player.” (Goal)
Matias Conti, Pahang striker: “I want to do my best for the final and give my full focus on the game. Hopefully I can find my scoring touch like last year.” (Utusan Online)
Bojan Hodak, JDT head coach: "From the pictures I have seen and information received, the pitch is in an awful condition. We have prepared well but the condition of the pitch might ruin all our efforts. However, we cannot do anything about the status.” (Bernama)
Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, FAM President: “I hope the final will be a quality match and all spectators will be satisfied with the game.” (The Rakyat Post)
Pahang to successfully defend the trophy. 2-1.