Why Kedah are genuine Malaysia Cup contenders

Darren Goon explains why last year's Malaysia Cup semi-finalists could upset the odds once again and go all the way this year...

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Although we should all be familiar with Kedah’s dark horse status by now, their second round demolition of Terengganu, the team that finished fourth in the Super League and had won eight of their last ten matches, was a bit of a surprise. It was the Turtles’ biggest defeat for three years, since losing 6-1 to Kelantan in the 2012 Malaysia Cup group stages.

Last year’s run to the Malaysia Cup semi-finals saw Kedah swat four Super League team aside, but nobody expected a win in such emphatic fashion. Not only was the scoreline notable, but also the manner in which they took a supposedly superior team apart. Here’s how they did it...

Import brilliance

It’s not an understatement to say that Kedah’s Premier League title win was borne out of replacing two of their foreign players in the April transfer window. Attacking midfielders Liridon Krasniqi and Sandro da Silva Mendonça, from Kosovo and Brazil respectively, came in at the expense of defender Lawrence Olum and striker Keith Murtu Nah. The new signings inspired the team's charge from sixth to second place in the space of three matches. In fact, Kedah won 10 of their next 13 matches to rise to the top of the table, a position they held on to for the final seven rounds of the season.

Krasniqi contributed five goals while Sandro plundered nine, including a spectacular hat-trick in the final league match of the season that clinched the trophy. The Brazilian's tally now stands at nine goals in his last four matches after scoring yet another hattrick in half an hour’s play against Terengganu. Given free reign alongside Krasniqi, he scored in the 52nd, 66th, and 82nd minutes, all with his trusty right peg.

Krasniqi and Sandro form a formidable attacking midfield partnership for Kedah

Quantitatively, he was brilliant. Qualitatively, he was just as good. Brazilian attackers are often typecast as flamboyant, tricky players who can delight the crowd, and Sandro produced a display befitting the archetypal Samba superstar. An attempted backheeled pass as early as the third minute set the tone, and he would continue to dazzle with more flicks and tricks throughout the match.

Krasniqi arguably ran the show, not the most straightforward task considering Terengganu’s midfield featured the creative talent of Gustavo Lopez (FourFourTwo’s Midfielder and Signing of the Season), Ashaari Shamsuddin, and Ismail Faruqi. The man has posted three videos (at present) on his Facebook page documenting the “pannas” (commonly known as a nutmeg) he has performed on several poor, unsuspecting local footballers, and he slowly chipped away at his opponents’ composure in the middle with his calmness on the ball. At times it seemed that he was merely walking, and not running, with it! A couple of tasty chips into the box in the first half weren’t finished by Kedah’s forwards, but he contributed the final pass that saw Edeh win a penalty for the second goal, and was extremely influential despite not directly notching a goal or an assist.

Baddrol Bakhtiar's reinvention

Everyone knows Baddrol Bakhtiar. Bursting onto the scene as Kedah won the “Double Treble” almost a decade ago, “Mr. Kedah” is most well-known as a tireless winger, or as an attacking midfielder. Against Terengganu he was deployed in a defensive midfield position, shuttling between the defence and the two foreigners ahead of him in midfield. His first clear contribution in the 5th minute saw him drop very deep to receive the ball from a defender, before belting a Stevie-G-esque Hollywood pass across the pitch and out of play. He continued to take free-kicks, including one in the 27th minute, but otherwise played the role of a defensive midfielder quite well, shutting down Terengganu’s fluid attacking midfield combinations of Lopez, Ashaari, and Ismail, as well as the runs Issey Nakajima-Farran tried to make from deep. All in all, he helped screen a defence that included young rookie Osman Yusoff, restricting his opponents to just one shot on target for the entire match.