Same Malaysia Cup finalists, many different scenarios

Defending champions Selangor meet Kedah on Sunday in a repeat of last year’s Malaysia Cup final, but the situation is quite different 12 months on, writes Vijhay Vick...

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Contrasting paths since 2015 decider

Selangor may have stamped their authority in last year’s final to ensure order remained between what were then top-flight and second-tier teams, but this past season it is Kedah that have grown in strength.

The Red Giants have struggled to find their footing in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), with assistant K. Gunalan taking over from Zainal Abidin Hassan as caretaker coach in August.

A dismal MSL fifth-placing and an early FA Cup exit was all Selangor could manage, despite high expectations stemming from last year’s Malaysia Cup win, while Kedah finished third in their first season back among the top teams in Malaysia.

Kedah also reached the FA Cup semi-finals, losing out to eventual winners Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) despite winning the first-leg 2-1 in Alor Setar.

The Red Giants will aim to continue a remarkable Cup record

Kedah are favourites this time

Ask just about every neutral observer out there who is fancied to lift the 2016 Malaysia Cup and Kedah will be the common response.

Their hot streak in recent matches – six straight wins – while playing beautiful football has made just about every team take notice.

Liridon Krasniqi has been nothing short of magnificent in the heart of midfield while the rest have been revelling in the Kosovan’s dominant display. Forwards Shane Smeltz and Thiago Fernandes, recent signings hailing from New Zealand and Brazil respectively, have been in hot form too.

Tan Cheng Hoe’s side was also on fire in the build-up to the 2015 pinnacle, but could not find a way past a rigid Selangor, who scored twice on the break to lift the trophy. Kedah, however, look more complete this year.

Kedah fans will be optimistic of a different result. Photo: Kedah FA

Cup aura remains, but Durakovic factor is gone

It’s really a surprise Selangor have reached the final, especially with their Jekyll and Hyde performances in 2016.

An absolute disaster at home – losing six of their last nine matches – Selangor have turned up in the Malaysia Cup under Gunalan and been scoring freely. They have not, however, faced an opponent of Kedah’s calibre.

The departure of Australian coach Mehmet Durakovic, who has his loyal supporters in the dressing room, only brought disharmony as FourFourTwo understands there is still a divide among some players.

Last year, Durakovic held the team together despite internal problems at the club. He fostered a close-knit squad and it was no secret the starting 11 fought for each other and their coach.

The players even pleaded with the decision makers to retain the club legend, but the requests fell on deaf ears.

Durakovic's departure is still having lingering effects

Another sell-out, but could Selangor be outnumbered again?

The Malaysia Cup has almost never failed to attract big crowd numbers due to its proud history and the long-standing rivalries between the teams, especially state-orientated sides.

Both teams played in front of a packed Shah Alam Stadium last year, with support equally balanced, something that may not be the case on October 30.

Selangor fans have shunned the Red Giants in recent months, leaving the 33-time Malaysia Cup winners to play to near empty crowds at a stadium that fits well over 70,000.

T-Team, a club side that does not have many followers, outnumbered Selangor fans in the semi-final first-leg in Shah Alam.

Even the Selangor Ultras have reduced in size significantly and it is unclear how big their ‘army’ will be on Sunday.

Both teams have received equal number of tickets, but online tickets could be bought by anyone. If Selangor fans don’t snap up tickets like in previous years, more from Kedah could get their hands on them.

Smeltz (left) has added a different dimension. Photo: Kedah FA

Both dugouts face uncertain futures

There was only one coach unclear where his future was ahead of the 2015 final, as Zainal had already been already lined-up as Durakovic’s replacement months before despite the club insisting otherwise.

Selangor will again enter the final with a coach that will not call the shots next year. Delivering the Malaysia Cup was not enough to keep Durakovic and it is no different for Gunalan.

The Red Giants are in the market for a new coach, but a decision could be prolonged as relationship between conflicting camps in Selangor have broken down in recent months, thus affecting the decision-making process.

Kedah’s Tan had one more year left on his contract last year and had already started securing players for the 2016 season, something that has not been the case at present. In an interview with FourFourTwo, Tan revealed he was open to hearing other offers.

Main photo: Kedah FA