Malaysia Cup | Darul Makmur Stadium |Wed Dec 2 | 8.45pm
The clash brings back memories of the days when Zainal Abidin Hassan, Dollah Salleh and Mehmet Durakovic were playing in the M-League. The Malaysia Cup often pitted these two giants together, and each tie has been close.
Fast forward two decades and the two sides will renew their rivalry for a coveted place in the final. Things have changed for both over time. While Selangor – having won the competition a record 32 times – were always favourites in the competition in the mid-1990s, Pahang enter the tie having won the previous two editions.
Yet this time Pahang will find their way blocked by a most-resilient opponent at the semi-final hurdle, and face a genuine test to their credentials entering the clash with their counterparts.
Zainal Abidin Hassan’s men have conceded 14 in the Malaysia Cup alone, suffering three one-sided defeats against Penang, PKNS and LionsXII already. By comparison, Selangor did lose two, though their only meltdown was at home to Kelantan (3-0) on the opening day.
Selangor coach Mehmet Durakovic praised the team effort after they saw off a determined Sarawak in the last eight on Saturday. Having built a team around a philosophy of determination and perseverance, the former Australia international believes this could be the year his troops claim success.
The visitors may rarely ever have played entertaining football under Durakovic, but they did manage to match their tally of 43 goals in this season’s Malaysia Super League (MSL). Selangor have also looked more solid at the back compared to Pahang’s leaky defence, establishing them as their arch-rivals’ mightiest hurdle yet.
Pahang will be forced to reshuffle their back-four again, with Abdul Aziz Ismail suspended for the tie. The stand-in defender picked up a yellow card in each leg of the semi-final ties against LionsXII last week.
Pahang M'sia Cup form
- Pahang 1-4 PKNS
- PDRM 0-3 Pahang
- Pahang 0-0 Pulau Pinang
- Pahang 4-1 LionsXII
- LionsXII 2-0 Pahang
Shahrizan Salleh could return to the line-up in place of Aziz in the event skipper Razman Roslan is not fit in time to start the match. The latter has not featured since suffering an ankle injury on international duty last month.
Meanwhile, Selangor may welcome Ahmad Hazwan Bakri back to the squad after he was left out against Sarawak in the second leg. The former Harimau Muda forward has scored two in the Malaysia Cup, taking his tally for the season to nine in all competitions.
Player to watch: Dickson Nwakaeme
The 29-year-old Nigerian is the man who pulls the strings in Pahang’s attack. Though usually deployed upfront, Nwakaeme often drops deep to help the midfield, and this is where the Pahang playmaker is in his element.
Nwakaeme is strong on the ball and difficult to mark, forcing teams to put more than one player on him. There are even occasions Nwakaeme dances around three or four defenders and then plays in a team-mate to apply the finishing touch.
He found the back of the net nine times in 21 MSL appearances, while his total in the cup presently stands at five – just one short of joint leaders Thiago Augusto Fernandes and Sandro da Silva Mendonca.
Durakovic and Zainal are both Selangor legends, and the latter was also a household name in Pahang.
Long before Durakovic marshalled Selangor’s backline in their hat-trick of Malaysia Cups between 1995 to 1997, Zainal had made his mark at the club as a budding talent, lifting back-to-back cups in 1981 and 1982. He moved to Pahang the following year and they ended an eight-year Selangor-Singapore dominance in the competition. Zainal played alongside Durakovic in the 1997 edition of the tournament and collected his sixth and final Malaysia Cup winners’ medal as a player that year.
Selangor M'sia Cup form
- Kelantan 0-1 Selangor
- Selangor 2-1 T-Team
- Felda United 3-2 Selangor
- Sarawak 1-2 Selangor
- Selangor 1-1 Sarawak
As Pahang’s coach, Zainal led them to the FA Cup and Malaysia Cup trophies last year. Earlier, he had formed part of the backroom staff when another former another legend, Dolah, ended Pahang’s 11-year wait in 2013.
As for Durakovic, the ex-Australia international has yet to taste success in his coaching career, though he came close in the 2014 MSL season when Selangor finished three points behind champions Johor Darul Ta’zim.
FourFourTwo can reveal that Zainal is under consideration to replace Durakovic there next season despite the latter having one more year left on his contract. This match offers an opportunity for both men to underline who deserves the coaching job at the club which turned them into household names.
Facts and figures
- Prior to Pahang’s 2-1 win over Selangor the last time the teams met in July, the former had not defeated the Red Giants since the 2011 MSL season.
- Selangor have only lost four times in 21 matches against Pahang since the 2005-06 season, winning 13 times.
- Zainal has been involved in all of Pahang’s four Malaysia Cup successes since 1983.
Pahang 2 Selangor 1. The Elephants often come to life in front of their home fans in the Malaysia Cup latter stages, as was recently evident in the 4-1 win over LionsXII in the quarter-final first leg.