* ‘It will be like a Malaysia versus Singapore match’ – Azraai
* ‘Kelantan players were highly motivated’ – Azraai
“We did it” were the only three words chief coach Azraai Khor Abdullah used in his text message to inform Kelantan FA (KAFA) president Tan Sri Annuar Musa of Kelantan’s march into the FA Cup final against Singapore outfit Lions XII – at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur on May 23. Annuar Musa is currently in the United States and missed Kelantan’s FA Cup semi-final matches against Pahang but will return on home this Wednesday for the biggie.
There is no doubt that former international Azraai has transformed Kelantan since taking over the hot seat from Dutchman George Boateng. One of the first things Kedah-born Azraai did was to improve the fitness of the Red Warriors and this has brought a fair measure of success.
Putiing that aside Azraai is now focused on the FA Cup final as “there is a lot at stake” as it is a battle of pride between two teams representing two countries.
“It is Kelantan versus Lions XII final for the Cup but in a way it is battle of pride between two countries. Lions XII are virtually the Singapore’s national back-up squad. There is a lot at stake in this year’s FA Cup final as this is the first time a foreign team is playing in the final,” said Azraai from Kota Bahru.
Azraai, who had successful stints with his homestate Kedah and Negri Sembilan apart from Perak and T-Team, is one of the most successful local coaches and taking Kelantan football out of the doldrums was not an easy task for the former international.
Handpicked by Annuar for the job after Boateng was sacked. Azraai was in Brazil – often described as the Mecca of football” at his own expenses to learn the latest in football coaching with attachments with some of the leading football clubs in the country, when he got a text message from the KAFA president.
Azraai wasted no time and returned home to take up the challenge and Kelantan’s march into the FA Cup final is another feather in his cap. This is Kelantan’s third FA Cup final in four years.
“I will have a full squad at my disposal…no suspensions and no major injuries. But I must reiterate that the team will be picked on merit. Those who have got into the team have not disappointed me or the team and they have all contributed to the team’s success in reaching the (FA Cup) final.
“The youngsters have come on strong and there is more drive and fire in the team now,” added Azraai, obviously referring to players like Wan Zack Haikal, Wan Zahrulnizam Zakaria, Austin Amutu, Jonathan McKain, Erwin Carrillo, Gilmar Filho and Khairul Izuan Rosli.
“They have proven their worth after being given the chance. The team is now more energetic and fitness has improved tremendously.”
Azraai, however, warned that Lions XII will be “more than a handful” and have been playing together for some time. “They also have good individual players who can win matches for the team” – and singled out Khairul Amri Kamal
Kelantan resume training in Kota Bahru tomorrow (Tuesday).