MALAYSIA CUP: Consistent Kelantan target more glory but others can ruin the script
THE Malaysia Cup kicks off today, and after a pulsating Super League season, fans will eagerly anticipate an exciting competition.
Kelantan, the most consistent team after having won the FA Cup and the League, will be determined to achieve a treble, which only Kedah have done in 2007 and 2008. Bojan Hodak's side, however, will not have it easy as they have a tricky group -- comprising Terengganu, Kedah and Premier League winners Armed Forces -- to negotiate.
They have a tough opening game against Terengganu, who have an excellent home record, in a Group B match at the Sultan Nasiruddin Shah Stadium today.
Kelantan have been dominant this season due to their depth on the bench and Hodak is expected to rotate his players in accordance to the strengths of their rivals.
Terengganu, meanwhile, are capable of challenging Kelantan today, provided coach Peter Butler manages to motivate and bring out the best from his players.
"We will need to reshuffle our strike force in the absence of Mohd Ghaddar, who will serve his one match suspension tomorrow (today).
"We are in the toughest group of the competition but it does not matter as it will make us stronger," said team manager Azman Ibrahim.
Problem-plagued Kedah will need to forget about their demotion to the Premier League if they hope to earn something against Forces in Alor Star.
LionsXII, who want to win the title for the 25th time, will face an inspired Johor FC who bounced back strongly at the tailend of the league season to avoid relegation in Group A, today.
Lions, coached by V. Sundramoorthy, will start without national captain Shahril Ishak but have 12 other players with international caps to depend on in hope of a winning return after 18 years.
PKNS will need to be cautious when they take on a Johor side hoping to cause an upset for maximum points.
"We want to progress from the group stage. We were unlucky last year being in the same group as the eventual winners and runners-up but we have to be wary of the threat both Johor sides will pose," said PKNS assistant coach Mahfizul Rusydin.
Defending champions Negri Sembilan will be firing on all cylinders in Group C after securing Premier League top-scorer Khairul Izuan Abdullah on a four-month loan deal from Police.
Negri are expected to grant their coach Azraai Khor's wish of a winning start when they face an erratic Felda United at Hang Tuah Stadium today.
"It's important for our fans to know we will do our best for them," said Azraai.
All eyes will be on the inexperienced Sime Darby side looking to emulate their FA Cup success when they begin their campaign against a Michal Kubala-inspired Perak side in Selayang today.
"Our achievement in the FA Cup will not have an effect on the Malaysia Cup -- they are two very different competitions. Traditionally, players have used this competition as a platform to showcase their talent," said Sime Darby coach Ismail Zakaria.
Selangor, the Group D favourites, will be desperate to start their campaign on a high against Sarawak in Kuching.
Captain Amri Yahyah and Bunyamin Umar, who are each serving three-match suspensions, and the injured K. Gurusamy, are unavailable today and coach Irfan Bakti will find it difficult to find suitable replacements.
Selangor fans will demand changes if their team fail again to win silverware.
It is learnt that the "prima donna" attitude of some star-studded players is one of the key reasons Selangor have yet to reach their full potential.
Irfan needs to get tough and weed out problematic players, which he has done without criticism during the league, to ensure Cup glory.
"We are prepared to achieve our target of making the final.
"Anything less will be seen as a failure, according to the management," said Irfan.
Premier League runners-up Pahang and T-Team are the other teams vying for the two quarter-final spots in Group D.