FOOTBALL / MALAYSIA CUP: Tough group for Kelantan
TEST: FA Cup and Super League champs will not have an easy time
FORTUNE shone on seeded teams LionsXII and Selangor but not for Super League champions Kelantan and Negri Sembilan at the Malaysia Cup draw in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Kelantan, the top seed by virtue of retaining their Super League title this season, were drawn with Premier League champions Armed Forces, Terengganu and Kedah in Group B.
"It is the toughest group. Normally those who advance from tough groups progress further but it will not be easy for us," said Kelantan manager Azman Ibrahim yesterday.
"We may have won the Super League and FA Cup this season but it does not make us favourites for the Malaysia Cup. Our players must not be complacent as this is a new competition.
"Kedah may have been relegated but they have several national players and I believe they will be a force once they solve their problems. Terengganu and Forces will be our toughest rivals," added Azman.
Star-studded Forces have improved tremendously under coach B. Sathianathan who guided them to their first ever major M-League title in this season's Premier League.
"All the teams in our group have Malaysia Cup history except for us but it does not make us underdogs.
"I have a good squad but my players need to work on their understanding," said Sathianathan.
Singapore's LionsXII, the Super League runners-up, will be making their return to the Malaysia Cup competition after 18 years and coach V. Sundramoorthy hopes his team, who are in Group A with PKNS, Johor FC and Johor, will make an impression.
"We are quite happy with the draw and I think we should progress beyond the group stage.
"Except for captain Shahril Ishak, who is nursing a shoulder injury, the rest will be available," said Sundramoorthy.
Negri Sembilan, coached by Azraai Khor, are in Group C with Perak, Felda United and FA Cup runners-up Sime Darby FC.
"Of course we would want to retain our title. We have signed Premier League top-scorer Khairul Izuan Abdullah from Police to beef up our attack and he has blended well with his new teammates.
"We will not surrender our title without a good fight. Perak and Felda are our main rivals but Sime Darby could surprise like they did in the FA Cup," said Azraai.
Selangor, the 32-time champions, will face off with T-Team, Sarawak and Premier League runners-up Pahang in Group D.
The two-time Super League winners are desperate to lift their first title in two seasons in the Malaysia Cup, a competition which they have not won since their 3-0 win over Perlis in the 2005 final.
Coach Irfan Bakti said his team are confident and motivated ahead of the kick-off.
"My players realise they need to win the title as it is the last trophy of the season. We want to win it this time.
"All my players except for Asaruddin Putra Omar are free of injuries. I think we should be able to advance to the quarter-final stage," said Irfan.
Selangor are somewhat lucky as they will not meet Kelantan until the final if both teams top their respective groups.
The Malaysia Cup group stage kicks off on Aug 22 with the final on Oct 20 at the National Stadium.