Preview: Selangor vs Kedah – Who will return to glory?
Fallen giants battling back.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Selangor 1 Kedah 1 (July 2012)
- Kedah 1 Selangor 0 (March 2012)
- Kedah 0 Selangor 2 (May 2011)
- Selangor 2 Kedah 0 (March 2011)
- Kedah 2 Selangor 0 (August 2010)
Selangor and Kedah are two teams clamouring to be in the higher echelons of Malaysian football again. Their best days have long gone and it has been a tough journey to reach the 2015 Malaysia Cup final for both teams.
Memories of the 2008 final comes to mind for this tie. Then, Kedah defeated Selangor 3-2 to secure a domestic double treble and end Selangor’s hope of a record breaking 33rd title – a chase that has remained elusive through to today. Neither teams has even reached the final since then, so something has to give on Saturday night.
For Kedah, 2015 will be nothing short of a fairytale year if they lift their fifth Malaysia Cup. Kedah won the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) and secured top flight football next year after a three-year lapse. Imports Liridon Krasniqi, Sandro da Silva Mendonca, Chidi Edeh and Bang Seung-hwan have blooded in well with local quartet Baddrol Bakhtiar, Syazwan Zainon, Khairul Helmi and Syazwan Tajuddin.
The Red Eagles have attracted admirers for their style of play in recent months. Seldom do you see an aimless long ball played to the forwards. Instead, Kedah have emphasised a passing game and being patient on the ball.
Kedah’s top-flight credentials were tested in this Cup after being drawn with FA Cup winners LionsXII and Terengganu in the group stage and Felda United in the last four. Felda were high on confidence after disposing Malaysia Super League (MSL) winners Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the quarter-finals, but Kedah held their own despite a soggy pitch in the first leg (2-2) in Selayang to prevail 4-3 on aggregate. Kedah also defeated LionsXII and Terengganu in Alor Setar.
Selangor have been far from spectacular and even head coach Mehmet Durakovic will tell you that. But the Australian has created a never-say-die attitude among his players and it is their perseverance and commitment that carried the Red Giants this far.
Lacking big name players or eye-catching imports, Selangor are all about team work. Leandro Dos Santos and Nazmi Faiz Mansor are not the best midfielders around but their constant hassling of opponents often allows the duo to come out on top – just ask defending champions Pahang how difficult it was to win the midfield battle in the semi-final.
Neither team has any suspensions to worry about or major injury concerns.
Selangor are likely to go with the tried and tested by fielding the same players that defeated Pahang 2-0 at Shah Alam Stadium on Sunday. Abdul Hadi Yahya is expected to play behind Brazilian Guilherme de Paula and will be flanked by the consistent Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and Andik Vermansyah.
Forward Afiq Azmi could come off the bench again as in previous games and will be a threat against tired legs in the latter stages of the match. Afiq scored eight times in the MSL to be the highest scoring local in the charts.
Selangor defender Raimi Md Nor could miss the match after limping off training on Wednesday morning, but Durakovic has an able replacement in Azmi Muslim, who isn't short of big match experience having previously played for ATM, JDT, Felda United and Malaysia.
Kedah will once again depend on midfield duo Baddrol and Krasniqi in the engine room with Mendonca playing off Edeh. Syazwan Zainon could give Selangor right-back Azrif Nasrulhaq problems but the young defender has triumphed in battles against more established players this season.
Player to watch: Sandro da Silva Mendonca
The April transfer window signing has been a revelation since arriving to Malaysian shores from Brazil. When he is not scoring goals, the 32-year-old drops to midfield to help his teammates.
His nine goals in 16 matches helped Kedah win 12 league matches since his arrival. While scoring goals in the MPL is often played down due to its difference in standards compared to the top flight, Mendonca is the joint-leading scorer of the Malaysia Cup with eight goals.
Expect Mendonca to show hunger to pip Felda’s Thiago Augusto Fernandes for the golden boot award. In-form Selangor custodian Norazlan Razali better be prepared for a baptism of fire.
Battle of the coaches: Mehmet Durakovic vs Tan Cheng Hoe
The final could be Durakovic’s last at Selangor as the club has lined-up Zainal Abidin Hassan as his replacement next season despite the Australian having a year left to run on his contract.
Durakovic has transformed Selangor from a side still living in its glory days to one that challenges for trophies again – all with a small budget that meant the likes of Paulo Rangel and S. Kunanlan left for bigger paycheques at the end of last year.
His counterpart Tan could be Durakovic’s toughest opponent yet in the competition as the former is showing signs of becoming a top coach after spending years under the guidance of former Malaysian coach K. Rajagobal in the national set-up.
Tan, who missed the previous two knockout rounds because he was completing his Pro Licence in China, returns to Malaysia on Friday for the final and will fly back on Sunday to complete his final week of the course.
Tan also has a very able assistant in Ramon Marcote, who was previously a physical trainer at Atletico Madrid. Marcote took charge of the team’s wins against PKNS and Felda.
Facts and figures
- In 19 previous meetings since 2005, Kedah have won 10 times compared to Selangor’s six wins.
- Durakovic bids to be the first foreigner to win the Malaysia Cup as both player and coach. He won three Malaysia Cups, also with Selangor, in the mid-1990s.
- Tan is also aiming for a player-coach double after winning the trophy with Kedah in 1990.
- Selangor lost four times across all competitions at their home ground, Shah Alam Stadium, this year. The stadium is hosting the final because Bukit Jalil Stadium is closed for a facelift.
This one could go down to the wire and is difficult to call as both teams look incredibly hungry. But Selangor may just nick this by the skin of their teeth.