By ERIC SAMUEL and JOSEPH KAOS Jr - PETALING JAYA: The FA Cup is set for an explosive start today with a few top sides expected to face early exits in the opening round matches.
Among the big guns who could fall by the wayside due to the luck of the draw are five-time winners Selangor, Armed Forces, Lions XII, inaugural winners Perak and moneybags Johor Darul Takzim (JDT).
The Red Giants, trophyless for the last two seasons, have a big game against fancied Armed Forces at the Shah Alam Stadium. Both teams are having a good run in the Super League with 10 points each. It is a touch-and-go affair for both sides.
Selangor coach Irfan Bakti is under tremendous pressure and an early exit is not going to do him a world of good.
Coach B. Sathianathan, on the other hand, has done well for Forces. He led them to the Premier League title and second in the Malaysia Cup last season. Forces also started this season on a bright note, beating Kelantan to clinch the Charity Shield.
All eyes will also be on big-spending JDT who host gutsy Perak at the Larkin Stadium. Coached by former Singapore international Fandi Ahmad, JDT have yet to fire up the imagination of their fans. Despite having Daniel Guiza and several internationals in the side, they have only managed two wins in five matches in the Super League.
In their league meeting on Jan 11, JDT could only manage a 1-0 win over nine-man Perak at home.
Perak coach Mohd Azraai Khor Abdullah believes his team have a fighting chance to upset JDT.
“I hope my players will rise to the occasion again. We are hugely depleted due to injuries but I have a new game plan to stop JDT,” said Azraai.
On Saturday, Perak paid a heavy price in their 1-1 league draw against Selangor in Lumut. Three key players – centreback Mohd Shahrom Abdul Kalam (thigh), midfielder Mohd Nasir Basharuddin (groin) and Mohd Rafiuddin Roddin (ankle) – are doubtful starters for today’s match.
Perak, however, have a formidable forwardline with former Golden Boot winner Abdul Hadi Yahya, Azlan Ismail, Yong Kuong Yong and Mohd Failee Ghazali capable of troubling JDT.
“We lost to them because we were down to nine men in our earlier encounter. We know JDT’s strengths and weaknesses,” said Azraai.
Lions XII, runners-up in last season’s Super League, will face bogey team PKNS FC at the MBPJ Stadium in Kelana Jaya. The Singapore Under-23 side were beaten 1-0 in the league by PKNS at the Shah Alam Stadium last week.
Dollah Salleh’s Pahang, the league leaders, are also not sure bets to get past Premier League side Johor at the Pasir Gudang Stadium.
The Elephants are feeling the strain of playing too much football and may be toppled by the Johor side.
T-Team are favourites to reach the next round against Premier League side Perlis, but coach Peter Butler is not taking things for granted.
“This is a massive game. I have told my players to go out with the right attitude and show Perlis full respect,” said Butler.
“For Perlis, it will be their biggest match and we should treat it the same way. When it comes to Cup matches, the form book goes out of the window,” said the Englishman.
“Perlis have two dangerous foreign players. I know Dennis Antwi and Emmanuel Okine very well because I was the one who brought them to Malaysia when I coached Kelantan. I regard them highly and they have wonderful work ethics. We need to look out for them,” said Butler.
Kelantan and Sime Darby FC, last year’s champions and runners-up respectively, have been given a first-round bye.
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