* Azraai warns to be wary of tired Pahang in return-leg FA Cup semi-final
* Taj settles down well with Kelantan
While ruing the misses in the first-leg in Kuantan last week, Kelantan chief coach Azraai Khor Abdullah is quietly “planning the second half of the battle” to be won in the return-leg FA Cup semi-finals against defending champions Pahang this Saturday.
“What happened in the first-leg is best forgotten. Let’s focus on the return-leg where another half of the battle has to be won,” said Azraai from Kota Bahru.
Kelantan conceded a first minute goal in Kuantan and Pahang tooped off 1-0 winners, with long serving Argentine striker Matias Conti netting the winner off an assist from Nigerian Dickson Nwakaeme. But that win might not be good enough for the Elephants.
For one Pahang are mentally and physically tired from their hectic local and international schedule.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) Pahang will battle for a slot in Round of 16 from Group G in the AFC Cup competition – needing a draw against Global FC of the Philippines to join leaders South China FC. The match will be played in Manila.
“Pahang maybe tired but it does not make things any easier for us. We have to take full advantage at home in front of our home fans. But here again I will only pick my team on merit,” reiterated Azraai.
“It does not matter if you are a local or a foreign player, you have to earn your place in the team or else you will start from the bench. I am aware of some players who have not played up to expectations and I will not hesitate to bench them if they are below par.”
For the first-leg skipper Badhri Radzi did not travel with the team to Kuantan as he asked to be left out due to injury. However, the national midfielder who commands the engine room, will be back for the biggie in Kota Bahru.
“We played better in the second half after I made some changes but we just could not find the net. Hopefully our finishing will be better in Kota Bahru and we need an early goal to put the pressure on Pahang.
“To me Pahang are still the better side, a compact team with enough depth on the bench. But it does not mean they are unbeatable,” added Azraai.
Pahang’s last visit to Kota Bahru ended with a 2-0 win in a Super League match on April 11 – it was Azraai’s second league match for the Red Warriors after taking over the hot seat from Dutchman George Boateng.
However, things have changed for the better for Kelantan since then.