Malaysia Cup set to enthrall

Malaysia Cup set to enthrall

By Keeshaanan Sundaresan

The sight of Kelantan rampaging past other teams in the closing stages of the Super League season is still lingering in the air of the local football scene.

The Malaysian Cup will kick off next week

Not to suggest that the other teams were mere pushovers but the superiority of the Red Warriors was projected indubitably. They were just that impressive, and this compliment is being bestowed to them with proper justification. 18 wins out of 26 league games, with only two defeats signals a dominant team.

Enough about them and their dominant Super League campaign though as it’s that time of the year again where the best 16 Malaysian teams of the year strut their stuff in the prestigious Malaysia Cup.

Originally known as the HMS Malaya Cup, it has provided its fair share of vibrancy and excitement over 90 years since it was launched back in 1921. Vivid memories of the classical strife between Singapore and Selangor FA during their golden days would emanate to the minds of the long-serving local football faithful.

Not forgetting the rise in stature of North Malaysian side Penang FA during the 60s and 70s with Isa Bakar spearheading their line upfront. Of course, these were all games prior to the 1994 corruption scandal that not only drained the ambience out of Malaysian football, but also sucked out the luminosity of the Malaysia Cup.

It struggled, both qualitatively and quantitatively, as the society began to shut their eyes on the local football scene. Per contra, a revival in fortunes was brought about by the success of the national team, beginning from the Merdeka Cup in 2007, and interest in the Malaysia Cup is being restored gradually.

The tide is definitely turning on how the fans perceive local football, and this year’s Malaysia Cup could very well take it to a whole new level.

LionsXII boss V.Sundramoorthy’s wish of being drawn with both the Johor sides were granted impeccably as all of them were drawn into Group A alongside PKNS FC. For the Lions, it will all be about limiting the time spent on travel and with this group, they can at least count on having a larger group of fans for the away games, with two short trips to Johor Bahru in the list.

For Johor FC, it will all be about redemption after their discordant outing in the Super League, in which they finished eight. Meanwhile, Johor FA will be the ones to watch out for in this group, with the state Royal family’s attempt of rekindling their affluence.

PKNS could very well be the dark horses in this one, as they have often proved to be in the Super League. The form of Michael Nicoise will be crucial to their chances though, and if he does hit top gear, expect them to provide stiff competition.

Following the success of Kelantan for the past two years, the odds are in favour of them completing a treble for the first time in their history. But there is more to Group B than meets the eye.

Malaysia Armed Forces (ATM) in particular will be the one to watch. Dubbed the ‘Manchester City’ of Malaysia, they have invested heavily this year and under the tutelage of B. Sathianathan, they were absolutely magnificent in their title-winning Premier League campaign.

Then there is also Kelantan’s East Coast rival, Terengganu FA, who will be a force to be reckoned with. Despite claims of an internal rift between the players and Peter Butler, Terengganu should not be taken lightly of and their tendency of hitting top heights in big matches could prove to be pivotal. Kedah are already being discounted by many following their relegation from the Super League, but things could be much different with a new coach in store.

Group C is an intriguing one with Perak being tipped as hot favourites to progress. However, their task will not be an easy one with defending champions Negeri Sembilan, FA Cup finalist Sime Darby and Felda United staking their claim for qualification into the second round as well.

The Seladangs had an impressive Super League season and despite a slight dip in form along the way, they managed to finish strongly in fourth. Michal Kubala is already becoming a household name when it comes to set-pieces and will be the one to watch again.

Negeri Sembilan have dropped down the pecking order in terms of quality, especially with the departure of several key players prior to the season. Nonetheless, their solidity is still present, with it being reflected in the form of Jean Emmanuel Effa Owona. The Cameroonian striker was a revelation throughout the campaign, finishing the season as joint top scorer with 15 goals under his belt.

Sime Darby’s brave run in the FA Cup final is certainly a testament to their capabilities and Felda United will find it a little too hot to handle. Perak and Negeri will be favourites to progress but the onus will be on Sime Darby and Felda United to prove otherwise.

There is only one legitimate favourite in Group D, and it’s none other than Selangor FA – who happens to be the most successful side in the history of the competition. The Red Giants have triumphed 32 times in this competition but luck hasn’t been on their side in recent times, having last lifted the trophy in 2005.

Since then, Selangor have built a reputation of faltering when it matters the most and it will be interesting to see how far they go this year. Nonetheless, their third place finish in the Super League alongside their loan acquisition of teenage sensation Rozaimi Rahman means that they are well balanced enough to qualify from this group.

Question is who will join them? Pahang will be keen to signal their intentions after securing a Super League spot for next year following their play-off victory over Kedah, while Sarawak seek to regain some pride following their relegation into the Premier League.

However, the strongest challenger to Selangor will indeed be T-Team FC, who had a roller coaster season in the Super League. Their chances though, will pretty much depend on the form of Zairo Anuar Zalani and Brazilian forward Marco Tulio, two of their goalscoring pillars.

No doubts, the stage has been set for a majestic tournament. 16 teams, no holds barred and survival of the fittest. This is the grand stage in which Malaysian football teams make history and it will be no different this time around.

Such certainty is apparent through the competition’s history and that makes the imminent kick off on August 22 a date to behold.

The 2012 Malaysia Cup is all set and ready to enthrall!




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