* Zainal has seen all – from floods, damaged pitch, missing players
* Pahang determined to defend Charity Shield against JDT
EAST Coast powerhouse Pahang were the most successful football team last season – retaining the prestigious Malaysia Cup, winning the FA Cup for only the second time and winning the Charity Shield for the third time.
The only silverware that slipped from the Elephants was the League which was won by star-studded Johor Darul Takzim (JDT). Pahang finished third with 37 points to JDT’s 44 and runners-up Selangor 41. However, Pahang, as the FA Cup champions qualified for the AFC Cup (group stage) while JDT as the League Cup winners will play in the 2015 AFC Champions League qualifying play-off.
Pahang kick-start their 2015 season with the Charity Shield match against JDT. The M-League curtain raiser will be played at Johor Bahru’s Larkin Stadium – the home of the Southern Tigers – which also boasts of the best football pitch in the country. In fact it is one of the best in this region.
The biggie between the FA Cup champions and the League Cup champions on Jan 31 will kick-start the M-League which has become more competitive with the FA of Malaysia (FAM) making a change to the competition rules – allowing teams to field all their four foreign players in a match. Last season teams were allowed to sign four foreign players but only three could play at any one time.
However, it is the “missing” Faizol Hussien which has became the talk of the town in Pahang. The 28-year-old midfielder has not shown up for Pahang’s training which began three weeks ago although he is still under contract until the end of 2015. The Johor-born midfielder has reportedly returned to his homestate and signed up for Johor Darul Takzim II who play in the lower tier Premier League.
“Faizol has not reported for training and frankly I am not sure what has happened to him. However, I have been informed that he has been training with JDT II…which baffles me because he is still under contract with Pahang,” said Zainal, adding that he will leave it to the management to sort out the mess.
Faizol is best remembered for scoring the winner in Pahang’s 1-0 win over Kelantan in the 2013 Malaysia Cup final.
Putting that aside, Zainal has been forced to make “drastic changes” to Pahang’s training following the massive floods that have ravaged the state together with Kelantan and Terengganu. In fact Pahang’s second home venue – the Temerloh Stadium – was inundated by the flood waters and will cost about RM500,000 to get it repaired.
“Some of the players and officials were victims of the floods. Some were forced to skip training while some made it. However, we made some leeway for the flood victims,” said Zainal.
In Kuantan, Zainal did manage to get a couple of training sessions at the Darul Makmur Stadium but most of the training was done indoors on Futsal courts and gym.
Tomorrow, Pahang leave for Singapore for a friendly match against the Young Lions at the Jalan Stadium on Wednesday.
Pahang have retained all their four foreign players for the 2015 season – strikers Matias Conti (Argentina), Dickson Nwakaeme (Nigeria) and defenders Damion Stewart (Jamaica) and Zesh Rehman.
“Playing JDT away gives JDT the advantage,” said Zainal, “However, we have not lost to JDT at Larkin but we have not won there either. It will be a tough match which we would like to win to kick-start our (M-League)campaign.”
Last year Pahang beat Lions XII 1-0 in Kuantan to win the silverware for the third time. Pahang’s previous wins in the Charity Shield were in 1992 and 1993.
In last year’s Malaysia Cup final, Pahang beat JDT 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw to retain the most sought after silverware in Malaysian football.