When friendship takes a back seat for Dollah and Zainal

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The top of the table clash Hang Jebat Stadium this Saturday between leaders Pahang and Melaka United will bring together two of the better known former Malaysian internationals Dollah Salleh and Zainal Abidin Hassan.

They are best of buddies off the pitch but it will be the “battle of the rivals” who will try to outwit each other in match strategies on the field as both teams go into the fray unbeaten after two matches.

Dollah is the Pahang head coach while Zainal is the new man at the helm of a new-look Melaka built around the experience brought in by names like Khairul Fahmi Che Mat, Shukur Adan, Safiq Rahim, and Razman Roslan.

Both teams are riding high and are unbeaten after two matches. Pahang is on top on better goal difference of 6-1, followed by defending champions Johor Darul Takzim (5-1) against Melaka’s 3-1 although all three are bunched on six points.

“This is a big match for us, more so when we are playing at home with an unbeaten record. It gives us the opportunity to strengthen our place in the top bracket,” said Zainal from Melaka.

Zainal, however, is cautious of Pahang and was quick to point out that the Elephants is not only a strong team with strength in all departments but one that has seen minimal changes in the side.

“I must say that the return of Dickson (Nwakaeme) has given Pahang added confidence…and Dickson has not disappointed in the first two matches. However, we have our own mission to accomplish.

“Dollah and I are good buddies. But it stops at that. Off the field, we are best of friends and that goes with our families. On the field we are rivals. Our friendship takes a backseat.”

Pahang goes into the fray with impressive 3-1 and 3-0 wins over Kuala Lumpur (away) and Terengganu (home) respectively. Melaka, on the other hand, beat PJ City FC 2-1 at home and PKNS FC 1-0 away.

“We have won our first two matches for a good start to the season. The real test, however, comes against Pahang. It is a big home match for us and we have to take full advantage of playing in front of our home fans.

“Although we collected full points against PJ City and PKNS we still have a lot to improve overall. I am happy with the results but there is much more to be done.

“Liridon (Krasniqi) has settled down well but he can do much more that will benefit the team overall. This also goes for other players,” added Zainal, who was once with Dollah in Pahang.

Zainal also gave broad hints that he could feature Montenegro midfielder Darko Markovic in his match plans against Pahang and retain national goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat in goal.

On the other hand, Dollah is lost for choice in picking his first team but signs are that he will keep his red hot Nigerian hitman Nwakaeme to pile pressure on Melaka.

Nwakaeme has scored three goals, two against KL and one against Terengganu – to warn that he has not lost his “scoring touch” despite a three-year absence from the M-League.

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