Selangor captain Shahrom Kalam is happy with the underdog tag ahead of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) season-opener, saying Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have set the benchmark in Asia.
Selangor and JDT kick off the 2016 MSL season at the Larkin Stadium on February 13.
Back-to-back league winners JDT are intent on winning a third straight title and have already displayed their readiness for the season after holding the much-fancied Thai club Muangthong United for 120 minutes in the AFC Champions League Qualifying Round Two, only to lose in the penalty shootout.
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The 2015 Malaysia Cup-winners Selangor, meanwhile, lost three of their five pre-season matches and enter the season with a new coaching team. Yet, Selangor have strengthened their squad with several key signings such as Razman Roslan, Hafiz Kamal, R. Gopinanthan and Patrick Wleh.
We are going in as underdogs against JDT at Larkin but we will make it competitive
The Red Giants did win their opening two friendly matches against Sarawak (2-0) and Kuala Lumpur (2-1) at the Selayang Stadium, their temporary home venue until the Shah Alam stadium reopens following maintenance work.
“It’s a tough start to the season. JDT are the favourites for a reason and will be the team to beat. Our pre-season matches in Thailand both ended in losses but we had good games,” said Shahrom.
“This is what these matches are for … to get us ready for the season. There are some new faces and everyone is fitting in well I think. We are going in as underdogs against JDT at Larkin but we will make it competitive.
“A good start will set us up nicely for the season and the AFC Cup starts this month too. We’ve played in Asia before and I’m happy we get to play there again as this is also an opportunity to improve ourselves further. JDT have obviously set the benchmark for Malaysian teams and that’s what we must strive for.”
Selangor’s tough start to the season means new coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has to plot away trips to Perak, Air Asia (FA Cup), Ceres La Salle (AFC Cup) and his former team Pahang before entertaining Sarawak and Tampines Rovers in the continental cup.
Shahrom feels new strike duo Patrick Wleh and Argentine Mauro Olivi are also finding their feet, although the latter is unable to communicate well verbally.
“Wleh has been in Malaysia for a few seasons already and had no problems fitting in. It’s difficult to talk to Olivi because of language barriers … he has never played outside South America,” he said.
“But football is universal. It’s the same game anywhere you go and on the pitch it has been OK so far. It’s not like we can’t have basic communication on tactics.”
Main photo: Instagram