*Pahang will be strengthened with the return of
Nwakaeme and Stewart for the return-leg
Kedah’s stunning 3-1 win over defending champions Pahang in the first-leg Malaysia Cup semi-finals match at the Darulaman Stadium in Slor Star on Sunday with a strong reminder from Kedah FA president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Tun Dr Mahathir that the Red Eagles wait a bigger battle in the return-leg in Kuantan.
“It was nice to beat the champions in the first-leg but we have another mammoth task ahead. Pahang are not only wounded but will be much stronger for the tie in Kuantan. They will not only have the home fans to cheer them but Pahang will be strengthened with the return of their suspended foreigners,” said Mukhriz, who is also the Chief Minister of Kedah.
Mukhriz was referring to Pahang’s suspended foreign duo of Dickson Nwakaeme (Nigerian striker) and Jamaican defender Damion Stewart who did not play in Alor Star. Both a pillar of strength in their respective departments and the Elephants felt their absence against the Red Eagles on Sunday.
With Argentine striker Matias Conti back in action after missing the two-leg quarter-final ties against newly crowned Premier League champions Police, Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan will have the full foreign quota at his disposal in planning his match strategies against Kedah for the return-leg.
On Sunday, Kedah tore Pahang to pieces for a convincing 3-1 win. However, the two-goal cushion may not be good enough against the wounded Elephants who are known to turn the tide in their favour. If there is one thing that is a plus factor for Pahang is their experience in handling big-match situations and the reigning FA Cup champions cannot be written off.
Kedah coach Tan Cheng Hoe, however, believes that his young side is “matured enough” to handle the situation and can march into the Malaysia Cup final for the first time since 2008.
“My have players have shown tremendous fighting spirit in the Malaysia Cup. I am proud of their performance and they are aware that they are capable of matching their opponents,” said Cheng Hoe, a former national assistant coach to Datuk K. Rajagobal.
The return-leg will be played at Kuantan’s Darul Makmur Stadium this Friday and another classic Malaysia Cup tie is expected to draw a bumper crowd as has been the case in previous biggies.
Kedah gave a polished display on Sunday to scalp the Super League outfit with goals by South Korean midfielder Namgung Woong, youngster Farhan Roslan and national striker Khyril Muhymeen.
Conti threw Pahang a lifeline and the away goal may just about give Kedah the jitters in Kuantan.