PENALTY WINNER: Ghaddar the hero in cautious final
IT was a historic day for Kelantan football as the east coast side finally completed a collection of titles in the M-League at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil yesterday.
Kelantan ended the fairy tale run of Premier League side Sime Darby but the star-studded team struggled before scraping past with a 1-0 victory.
Lebanese striker Mohamed Ghaddar scored the only goal of the match off a penalty kick, which was awarded rather controversially by referee Suhaiza Shukri in the 58th minute.
Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak said it was an ugly match as both sides were too cautious.
"It was a match with very few chances as Sime Darby defended in numbers. They parked their bus inside the box," said Hodak yesterday.
"Even when we scored a goal, they did not change their tactics. It was a difficult match but what matters most is that we won the title.
"We probably created 10 chances but our defensive-minded opponents probably had two or three chances and none posed any problem to us. The title means a lot to us. We have won this for the first time.
Sime Darby coach Ismail Zakaria was happy with his team's performance but he wasn't too sure whether the penalty awarded to Kelantan was a fair decision.
"It is a huge question mark but I do not want to harp on it as we cannot do anything about it. I am proud of my players as they fought bravely. Yes, of course, we played defensively in the first half but after the breather, we were more adventurous.
"Everyone in the team played to instructions but when we had the chances, some of them were poor in decision making," said Ismail.
Sime Darby, as expected, played the 4-5-1 formation, which left Kelantan frustrated with their ultra-defensive style of football. They played a cautious game as Kelantan could hardly create decent opportunities in the first half.
In the 41st minute, Ghaddar managed to free himself from his markers to get a clear header, off a Badhri Radzi's freekick, but his attempt from close range sailed over the cross bar.
As for Sime Darby, their only attempt was from Azmirul Azmi's long range effort in the ninth minute but Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat dealt with it easily.
Kelantan suffered a huge blow when centre-back S. Subramaniam suffered a badly bruised eye, from a collision with Sime Darby's Patrick 'Ronaldinho' Wleh in the 30th minute and coach Hodak had no choice but to replace him with Mohd Rizal Fahmi Rosid.
But Hodak later admitted it was a poor decision to replace Subramaniam as he only suffered a minor injury.
In the second half, Sime Darby decided on becoming more adventurous by replacing Brazilian midfielder Leandro Teofilo Santos Pinto with striker Razali Umar Kandasamy in the 53rd minute but the move did not pay off.
Kelantan earned a penalty kick after the referee Suhaizi adjudged that centre-back Fairuz Abdul Aziz brought down Obinna Nwaneri in the 58th minute and Ghaddar made no mistake from the spot for their first goal.
Sime Darby tried hard to get back into the match but they could not put many men forward as Kelantan wanted to score more goals.
Sime Darby, however, should be proud of their display as they fought bravely against the best side in the country.
Among the Sime Darby players, who made a huge impact were their centre-back captain and Man-of-the-Match Es Lizuan Zahir Amir, Fairuz Abdul Aziz and Wleh.
At the end of the day, the referee had a very poor game as some of his decisions were rather controversial.
He flashed his card six times in the match, four on Sime Darby players.
The media, who sat just below the upper tier, were bombarded with ice plastic cups and bottles throughout the match. A journalist, however, was not so lucky as he was hit by a hair-spray but he was not hurt.