MPL Review: Negeri still undefeated while a fixing scandal rocks the league

Negeri Sembilan remain unbeaten halfway into the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) season, but could be showing signs of chinks in their armour after drawing their last two matches, ending a terrific seven-match winning run to start the season.

We've reached the halfway point of the 2017 MPL campaign, with Negeri Sembilan leading the way following an unbeaten start to the season, racking up eight wins and three draws so far.  

Asri Ninggal’s side has a three-point lead over second-placed Terengganu (24 points), with surprise-package Perak SEDC in third position with 22 points. 

There are no minnows in the MPL. Football is unpredictable and my players cannot take any team for granted

For the record, Negeri are the only remaining unbeaten team in the Malaysia league having also reached the FA Cup semi-finals.  

If they continue this pace, they could emulate Sarawak’s unbeaten campaign in the 2013 MPL season. 

However, they are beginning to show strains in their campaign as they dropped points in their last two league matches. 

They were held by Johor Darul Ta’zim II (JDT II) on April 14 and again by Perlis on April 21 with twin 1-1 score lines. 

Asri has advised his players not to be complacent and also to respect all MPL teams. 

Still unbeaten, Negeri have lost a little momentum

“There are no minnows in the MPL. Football is unpredictable and my players cannot take any team for granted,” Asri told FourFourTwo. 

“It has been very frustrating for me as I expected maximum points from the last two matches. 

“There are areas in our game that I am addressing. We started well and scored many goals but we have lost our scoring touch.” 

Asri hopes his team will get things back on track when the second round of the Premier League resumes on May 5. 

MISC-MIFA and Perlis occupy the bottom two spots in the MPL with six points each, with the former one spot higher on goal difference. 

Sabah moved one rung above the relegation zone following a 2-1 win over Kuantan FA in Kota Kinabalu on April 14 under newly appointed coach Jelius Ating, who is determined to help his team rise from the doldrums. 

Malaysia Cup Qualification 

This year’s Malaysia Cup will have two new teams in Perak SEDC and University Technology Mara (UiTM). 

Former champions Negeri, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur complete the five-team cast from the MPL for the Malaysia Cup. 

I feel I am in a dream as I did not set high expectations for the team in our first season in the MPL

- Abu Bakar Fadzim

Perak SEDC are also the youngest club to make the cut. They were established in July 2015.  

Abu Bakar Fadzim’s side earned qualification to the Premier League after finishing runners-up in the third tier FAM Cup behind MISC-MIFA in 2016. 

The team comprises mostly of former President’s Cup players from Perak. With budget issues, Perak SEDC only hired three foreigners and many had regarded them as relegation contenders before the start of the season. 

They have so far defied the odds. Abu Bakar’s mission, however, will be to avoid heavy defeats against top clubs in the Malaysia Cup. 

“I feel I am in a dream as I did not set high expectations for the team in our first season in the MPL," he said. 

UiTM will be part of this year's Malaysia Cup

“Qualifying for the Malaysia Cup is truly exceptionally and the achievement has also given us additional funds from the management to hire a fourth foreigner when the mid-season transfer window opens on May 15. 

“I hope the experience gained from the first half of the season will motivate my boys to make a breakthrough in the Malaysia Cup." 

Coaching UiTM has been tough as I rarely get my full squad of 30 players in training as some have to complete assignments

- Wan Mustaffa Wan Ismail

UiTM, comprising mostly university students, earned the last Malaysia Cup slot by taking fifth spot at the halfway mark of the MPL. 

“We have one of the smallest budgets in the league. Our players are not highly paid but what we provide them is a chance to pursue diploma and degree courses at our university,” said coach Wan Mustaffa Wan Ismail, who had stints as assistant trainer of the national team and Perlis. 

Wan Mustaffa said the Malaysia Cup qualification is a step forward for his side in their fifth season in the MPL. 

“Coaching UiTM has been tough as I rarely get my full squad of 30 players in training as some have to complete assignments and attend classes. 

“It is a challenge to conduct tactical training but I am managing and so far everything is going well,” Wan Mustaffa added. 

 LEADING SCORERS 

As expected, foreign players lead the charge for the MPL Golden Boot award, with UiTM’s Nigerian striker Akanni Sunday Wasiu leading the way with 11 goals.  

PDRM’s Dao Bakary, JDT II’s Nicolas FernandezNegeri’s Bruno Castanheira and MISC-MIFA’s Tagne Foguieng have nine goals each. 

Akanni Sunday Wasiu leads the MPL scoring charts

UiTM’s Do Dong Hyun and MISC-MIFAs Michael Ijezie are next on the chart with eight goals apiece. 

Venice Elphi’s hat-trick in the 4-3 win over Kuantan FA on April 25 places the Armed Forces winger as the leading scorer among locals with seven. 

Perak SEDC captain Shahrel Fikri Fauzi has six goals, one more than Kuantan’s Abdul Malik Mat Ariff. 

MPL News 

The football fraternity was rocked when three MISC-MIFA players, including one foreigner, were remanded for suspicion of match-fixing early this month, but they have since been released on bail. 

They were detained after MISC-MIFA conducted an independent investigation following a spate of poor results and handed the findings to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). 

The matter is still being investigated and it is understood several players from MISC-MIFA and some other clubs will be called up for questioning soon. 

MISC-MIFA in happier times. Will they survive the scandal?

Meanwhile, the decision by the Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) to allow foreign players to move to other clubs when the mid-season transfer window opens on May 15 has made several teams unhappy. 

Several foreigners with MPL clubs are now being enticed with attractive offers and this practice could weakened the second tier teams’ campaign for the remainder of the season. 

Previously, foreign players were not allowed to move to other teams during the mid-season transfer window. 

Photos: Asiana.my