Kedah pulled off the impossible to reach the Malaysia Cup final after a dramatic 5-5 draw with Pahang in the return leg semi-final at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan on Saturday.
The stalemate left both teams tied 8-8 on aggregate after the 3-3 draw in the first leg at the Darulaman Stadium in Alor Setar a week earlier. Kedah, however, advanced to the final against Johor Darul Takzim on away goals.
Six-time Super League champions JDT had easily won their second-leg match against Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadium by a 3-0 margin to keep their Cup final date 5-1 on aggregate.
If the first-leg ended in dramatic fashion with former international Zaquan Adha Abdul Radzak heading home a late equalizer deep into injury time, the second-leg in Kuantan was not short of a dramatic finishing.
In the end, it were the Red Eagles who soared on a night when Kedah’s Fernando Rodriguez (Spain) and Pahang’s Dickson Nwakaeme (Nigeria) and Lazarus Kiambi (Namibia) scored a brace each in a ding-dong energy-sapping battle that left both teams drained.
Going into the match in Kuantan, Pahang was the favorite, riding on the away goals advantage but it was Kedah who took the lead after only eight minutes of play with Rodriguez running into space to tuck it home from a Baddrol Bakhtiar freekick.
The Elephants, however, drew level through Nwakaeme on 33 minutes before Jonatan Bauman put Kedah in front again in the 55th minute. All looked lost for FA Cup champions Kedah when Kaimbi scored twice in a space of six minutes with his first coming in the 71st minute for a 3-2 lead.
The ever-dependable Baddrol put Kedah back on track in the 85th minute from a freekick to send the match into extra time and it was an epic battle when Renan Alves scored off a corner before Herold Goulon converted a penalty when Nwakaeme was felled inside the box.
Rodriguez struck his second on the night in the 118th minute only to see Nwakaeme get his brace in the 120th minute but Kedah was in the driving seat on away goals.
“This is a night to enjoy for the players who fought till the end. It is their night to cherish and they deserve to enjoy,” said Kedah’s Singaporean coach Aidil Sharin Sahak after the match.
His Pahang counterpart Dollah Salleh was a disappointed man with the defeat but praised his players for “fighting till the end and giving their best”.
However, in the same breath, Dollah admitted that he is surprised that his backline left gaps at the back when Pahang was leading 3-2.
Meanwhile, national striker Safawi Rasid helped himself to a hat-trick as JDT dashed Selangor’s hopes of remaining on track for their 34th Malaysia Cup title. He struck in the 25th, 46th and 51st minutes to take JDT to next week’s final.
The final will be a repeat of the 2017 final when JDT beat Kedah 2-0 to take the silverware. RIZAL ABDULLAH