All the best for my team!
Malaysia Cup final between flamboyant Kelantan, quiet Negri
By ERIC SAMUE and LOGANATH VELLOO
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysia Cup final between Kelantan and Negri Sembilan at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil (kick off 8.45pm) Saturday night will be a clash of two different personalities.
Flamboyant Kelantan have been making the headlines for the right and wrong reasons throughout the season, while the low-profile Negri have snuck up quietly into the final.
On the pitch, Kelantan employ a robust, direct attacking style of play while Negri rely on stealth and speed on the flanks to catch opposing defences offguard.
The two finalists also have plenty of similarities.
Both teams are led by former national coaches – the outspoken B. Sathianathan for Kelantan and the reserved Wan Jamak Wan Hassan for Negri Sembilan.
And both teams will also have on display star players who are capable of producing match-winning performances on their own – namely Indra Putra Mahayuddin (Kelantan) and Mohd Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak (Negri Sembilan).
But the similarity ends when it comes to the strength of fans’ support for the final.
Kelantan will win hands down for the battle in the stands at Bukit Jalil as an estimated two thirds of the 85,000 spectators expected at the stadium will be decked in the east coast team’s red colours.
After the disappointment of losing on penalties to Selangor in this year’s FA Cup final, Kelantan will not want to waste a second chance at landing their first major silverware in Malaysian football.
Kelantan’s two previous appearances in the Malaysia Cup finals ended in defeats to Singapore (1-3) in 1955 and Perak (0-2) in 1970.
A win tonight will be a fitting end to a dramatic roller-coaster season for the Red Warriors and their fanatical fans.
This year alone, they have endured the heartbreak of losing in a Cup final, a freefall in the second half of the season in the league, a ban from playing at home (later rescinded) due to rioting fans and their former coach (Peter Butler) leaving them in a lurch just days before the start of the Malaysia Cup competition.
Despite the setbacks, the Red Warriors have shown true heart to bounce back stronger from each problem and are now just one match away from creating history.
“I don’t believe in all the talk that Kelantan are the favourites for the final.
“The record shows that we have lost three out of the four encounters against Negri this season. So, I do not see how we can be installed as the favourites,” said Sathianathan yesterday.
“Both Kelantan and Negri are equally good to be in the final. It’s not a matter of who want to win it more, but rather who are able to perform better in the final.”
Negri, under Wan Jamak, are happy to be seen as the underdogs. After finishing a lowly eighth in the Super League, the Deer have picked up steam by winning all 10 matches in the Malaysia Cup campaign.
They are looking to end a 61-year wait for the Malaysia Cup title after coming up short at the final hurdles in 2000 and 2006.
“I did not push my players harder in training in the build-up to the final as I do not want them to feel the added pressure. Since extra pressure will lead to extra mistakes, I am not perturbed that Negri Sembilan are tagged as the underdogs,” said Wan Jamak.
Negri skipper Rezal Zambery Yahya, who is a former Kelantan player, said that the strong crowd support for Kelantan would not unnerve his team.
“The Negri players are used to playing in hostile environment and will not allow the vocal support from the Kelantan fans to influence our performance on the pitch.
“Negri hold the best defensive record in the competition after conceding just two goals in 10 matches. I believe the focus of the contest will not just be on the attackers but the defence as well,” said the defender.