Selangor vs Kedah: Can 2015 victors win back-to-back Malaysia Cups or are Kedah too strong time?
A repeat of the 2015 final – but so different.
Selangor emerged victorious when the two teams met in last year’s Malaysia Cup final, after striking twice against the run of play at Shah Alam Stadium.
The chance of winning a trophy is big enough a motivation, but Kedah, as much as they would probably insist otherwise, will have revenge on their minds for 2015’s defeat too.
The Red Eagles had dominated possession but simply could not find a way past Selangor’s watertight defence as they played bridesmaid.
Kedah are just about everyone’s favourites heading into the Malaysia Cup finale this time around, largely because of their excellent showing in 2016. The side finished third in their return to the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and reached the FA Cup semi-finals, where they lost to eventual winners Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
Tan Cheng Hoe’s men enter the final after six straight league wins and have impressed from the start of this competition. They play a possession-based style football and have forwards in Shane Smeltz and Thiago Fernandes that simply cannot be afforded space in the box.
Selangor, meanwhile, have had a disastrous year to finish fifth in the MSL standings and only an extend run in the Malaysia Cup have saved them some blushes.
Still battling an internal management crisis, the decision to part ways with Mehmet Durakociv at the end of last season back-fired as the Red Giants fail to make a mark despite strengthening their squad.
Caretaker coach K. Gunalan somehow managed to get the team together for the Cup but Selangor have not won in a league match since July.
Neither team has any suspensions to worry about but there will be few absentees through injury.
Kedah are still without left-back Ariff Farhan Isa but fans welcomed news that skipper Khairul Helmi Johari returned to training after picking up a knee injury during Malaysia’s visit to Singapore earlier this month.
Kedah winger Syazwan Zainon, who also got injured on international duty, has already returned to action after playing a part in the final day of the MSL season last Saturday.
Selangor have welcomed back captain Shahrom Kalam and Mauro Olivi back into their squad but it remains to be seen if both will be handed starts.
Gunalan opted to keep Shahrom on the bench in the semi-final second leg a fortnight ago despite the commanding centre-back having already return to action against Singapore and Afghanistan.
Olivi has not been very impressive and Gunalan will be better off starting with last year’s two-goal hero Ahmad Hazwan Bakri.
Hafiz Kamal is also back from injury but Nazmi Faiz Mansor, who is linked with a move to JDT, remains doubtful.
Player to watch: Liridon Krasniqi
The Kosovan international is in his second season at Kedah. His influence in the team cannot be downplayed.
A lot has been said about Kedah’s ability to boss the engine room – including against MSL winners JDT and at the centre of every move is Krasniqi.
The 24-year-old is expected to give his Selangor counterparts trouble. Should the defending champions fail to keep close guard, Krasniqi has the ability to play his teammates through on goal, take on defenders and find the back of the net himself.
Battle of the coaches: Tan Cheng Hoe vs K. Gunalan
Tan has long got rid of the assistant label after making a name for himself since joining Kedah prior to the 2014 Malaysia Cup campaign. Once long-serving assistant to K. Rajagobal in the national team, Tan is among the few No.2s who made a successful step-up.
The same cannot be said of Gunalan, who is expected to return to assistant duties next season as Selangor are on the lookout for a permanent coach.
Gunalan may feel the 2016 Malaysia Cup could be a career launch pad but any hope of being the boss of squad is likely to lie away from Selangor. The poor MSL form works against in favour though.
Facts and figures
- Selangor are seeking a record 34th Malaysia Cup trophy in a record 49th final while Kedah are seeking their fifth trophy in 12 attempts.
- Kedah have only beaten Selangor four times in 11 attempts across all competitions since their win in the 2008 Malaysia Cup final. The Red Giants won on six occasions.
- Tan Cheng Hoe is seeking to win the trophy for the second time after lifting it as a player in 1990.
- Krasniqi, Smeltz, and Fernandes are all on five goals each, two behind top scorer Guilherme De Paula of PDRM. Selangor’s Patrick Wleh has six while R. Gopinathan and Hazwan have seven goals between them.
Kedah to run deserving 2-1 winners. Selangor have the opportunity to defend their title but, bruised and battered from a tumultuous season, Kedah are expected to eventually outclass their opponents.