* Pahang and JDT cross paths after inspiring wins in AFC Cup

* ‘We are in better shape now ‘ – Pahang coach Zainal

Fresh from registering inspiring wins in their respective groups in the AFC Cup opening matches last week, defending champions Pahang and bitter rivals Johor Darul Takzim cross path for the second time this year – this time in a second round FA Cup match at Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan on Monday.

The two Malaysian football giants met each other at the Larkin Stadium on Jan 31 in the Charity Shield with JDT coming off 2-0 winners in the curtain raiser – their first win in six meetings since last year. The match also doubled up as a Super League tie which gave champions JDT full points.

However, Pahang have since then tightened up things and the Elephants are determined to get the better of the Southern Tigers who lost all their encounters in Kuantan last year.

“We are in better shape now compared to the Charity Shield encounter. The flaws have been rectified and ironed out and I am pleased with the team’s overall performance,” said Zainal from Kuantan.

“There is more discipline and commitment from the players apart from the tremendous fighting spirit they have displayed even when the chips are down. This is what brought us victory in the AFC Cup (against Myanmar champions Yadanarbon FC).”

In the Group G AFC Cup match in played in Mandalay, Pahang beat Yadanarbon 3-2 despite playing with players after Razman Roslan was sacked in the 54th minute.

“We need to keep the momentum going. There has been a lot of improvement in our play since the Charity Shield match. It won’t be easy playing JDT but we have to ride with confidence. We will have the homeground advantage apart from fan support…and I am optimistic of a positive result against JDT this around (FA Cup).

Last season Pahang beat JDT 3-2 in the league and 1-0 in the FA in Kuantan. In the Malaysia Cup final in Kuala Lumpur, Pahang triumphed 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw to retain the most sought after silverware in Malaysian football.

Pahang also won the FA Cup after beating Felda United 2-1 in the final…and Zainal draws inspiration from the title.

“We don’t want to be knocked out in the second round in the FA Cup. Our target is to retain the (FA) Cup and to progress beyond the second round is to win against JDT. The players are aware of the mammoth task that lies ahead and the journey for us begins in Kuantan,” added Zainal.

Zainal will be counting on his foreigners to lead the charge. Nigerian hitman scored a brace against Yadanarbon and seems to have regained his scoring touch. Tough tackling Jamaican defender Damion Stewart is rock steady with Zesh Rehman (Pakistan) in the heart of the defence although former scored an own goal in Mandalay which gave Yadanarbon the lifeline. Argentine striker Matias Conti, a former Golden Boot Award winner is also back in form.

A plus point for Zainal is the return of tough tackling defender Saifulnizam Miswan from a two-match suspension. Razman, despite his red card in the AFC Cup, is also free to play in the FA Cup.

JDT, on the other hand, have been struggling with their foreigners. Except for Singaporean Hariss Harun, coach Bojan Hodak did not start with his other foreigners – strikers Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Luciano Figueroa (both Argentina) and Brazilian defender Marcos Antonio Santos (Brazil) in the 4-1 win over India’s Kingfisher Bengal FC in their Group F match in the AFC Cup at the Larkin Stadium on Tuesday.

Diaz may have also severed his football his football links with the Southern Tigers as he is linked to a Brazilian club and will be replaced by another Argentine striker Patricio Julian Rodriguez who is currently playing for Brazilian club Santos but has turned out for Estudiantes on loan for the last two seasons.

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