KUALA LUMPUR, May 20 ― The 28th FA Cup final is between two teams tied for second place in the Super League and vying for honours on all fronts.
Kedah and Pahang have had mixed starts to the season but are now firing on all cylinders.
Elephants only scored 25 goals last season and finished ninth.
Escaped relegation as Kedah fielded the suspended Rizal Ghazali in their 1-0 win over Pahang.
East coast team awarded a 3-0 victory.
Three points shot them up the standings.
Razil Ismail sacked as coach.
Dollah Salleh returned to lead team.
Former Malaysian international coached them to 2013 Malaysia Cup title.
Brazilian forward Matheus Alves, Gambian winger Mohamadou Sumareh and South Korean defender Heo Jae-won made a world of difference.
Pahang’s journey to the final was fraught with tough encounters. They needed extratime to beat Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II in the second round.
A 2-0 victory over Melaka United preambled two mighty games against defending FA Cup champions JDT.
The first leg, a 3-1 win at Darul Makmur Stadium, was followed by a nail-biting 2-1 defeat in Larkin for an aggregate 4-3 victory.
In the semifinals they beat Premier League leaders Negri Sembilan 3-1 on aggregate.
Matthew Davies, 22, became Pahang’s youngest captain when he was given the armband last year.
After some trepidation, he is flourishing with the Elephants and the national Under-23s and senior teams.
“We’re hungry for it,” said Davies.
“We’ve turned things around by recruiting strong players. We have depth in all positions, which gives us plenty of options.
“Guys like Faisal Rosli or ‘Tocang’, Nor Azam Abdul Azih, Ahmad Syamim Yahya have all grown in stature. They are playing good football and have been standouts this year.
“This is my first opportunity to win a trophy. It’s the one thing missing from my resume. I’m excited, nervous and glad at the same time.
“Hopefully we can come back with a win for our fans.”
Kedah’s ups and downs
High flying Red Hawks were grounded last month with a stunning 5-0 defeat to T-Team.
That was first defeat of Super League season.
Coach Tan Cheng Ho then quit to join FA of Malaysia.
Performances of Liridon Krasniqi (Kosovo), Ken Ilso (Denmark) and Sandro da Silva (Brazilian) helped ease the blow.
Journey to final
Had slight scare against Premier League outfit Kuala Lumpur before winning 4-2.
Perak ran them ragged before Kedah won 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
Had no problem disposing of PKNP in the semifinals, with a 6-2 aggregate victory.
Cheng Hoe is responsible for the Red Hawks’ brand of fast paced, intricate short passing game that has captivated fans.
He forged close relationships with several players and a sense of betrayal and disappointment may have hung over the team, knowing he was to leave them.
Nevertheless, Cheng Hoe left Kedah in a good position.
Captain Khairul Helmi Johari, who has been with Kedah his whole career, is optimistic.
“Pahang are the most balanced team in the league. They have a good winger in (Mohamadou) Sumareh.
“We have strong reserves and our young boys are fitting in nicely with the seniors. That means we have competition for places.
“Nidzam Adzha Yusoff (caretaker coach) has fit in seamlessly. All of us are fully behind him and giving our best efforts in training.
“FA Cup was something we targeted this year as the winning team gain automatic qualification into next year’s AFC Cup.”
Final could be decided on penalties.