REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR
It is a well-known superstition for footballers - never touch a trophy before kick-off, for fear of ending up on the losing end.
In 2012, Bayern Munich midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk committed the cardinal sin ahead of the Champions League final, and Chelsea beat the German giants 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
This perhaps explains the awkward situation Kelantan and the LionsXII were in at the Malaysian FA Cup final press conference at the Bukit Jalil Stadium yesterday afternoon.
When the photographers and videographers urged the coaches and captains of both teams to pose for a picture with the trophy, Kelantan captain Badhri Radzi and LionsXII skipper Izwan Mahbud wore stiff smiles and backed off.
Kelantan coach Azraai Khor Abdullah, known to wear his lucky pink shirt in cup finals, which he has won in six out of seven outings, looked resigned as he was made to hold one end of the 60cm-tall FA Cup.
In stark contrast, a beaming LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad flashed his charming smile as he held the other end.
"Don't worry," said the 52-year-old. "We hold it now, we'll take it home tomorrow."
While Fandi accepted the underdogs tag - the LionsXII have no imports, while Kelantan will field four - he must be quietly confident after seeing his side show plenty of grit to beat a strong Terengganu side on away goals after the two-legged semi-final ended 4-4 on aggregate.
The LionsXII put on a dominant performance at Jalan Besar in the first leg, when they overran the Turtles, and should have won by a bigger margin than the final score of 2-1.
In the second leg, they allowed Terengganu to enjoy the lion's share of possession, but effectively hit on the counter to score two crucial away goals.
Fandi told The New Paper: "I want the boys to play more like the first leg.
"The best defence starts from attack. Press the opponents high and then drop off, then do it again. We must put Kelantan under pressure.
"They have fast wingers in Wan Zack Haikal (Wan Noor) and Wan Zaharulnizam (Zakaria). We must contain them, and not allow any space for their strikers, especially the Nigerian (Iwuji Amamchi) who scored two goals in the last game (against Pahang).
"We must also brush up on our set-piece defending. They have big foreigners who will cause problems but, thankfully, we have Safuwan (Baharudin) and Khairul (Nizam) back to help us in aerial challenges."
In their six FA Cup matches so far, the LionsXII have scored 16 goals via nine different scorers, from defenders, midfielders and strikers.
"Yes, that's one strength we have. Everyone chips in, we can score from anywhere," said Fandi.
Winger Gabriel Quak echoed his coach's sentiments, and added: "Finals don't come by easily. It's now or never. We will give everything we got for every minute we are on the pitch.
"People remember only the winners of the final, so we must make sure we are the ones who are remembered."
Fandi and his players are looking for their first cup win in LionsXII colours, and the coach is careful not to put too much pressure on his charges, especially since they have a rather dismal record of just one win and six losses in seven clashes against Kelantan.
"The boys will not be reading the newspapers. I just want them to focus. Let me handle all the pressure off the pitch, and the players should just concentrate on what happens on it," he said.
"So what if our past record is not good? We will overcome that tomorrow. We will make it happen."
On the other hand, Azraai is not about to be lulled into complacency by Kelantan's superior head-to-head record.
"Don't be fooled by the (LionsXII's) underdogs tag," said the 62-year-old.
"They have fantastic teamwork and the LionsXII have players who will form the future of the Singapore national team, and we cannot underestimate them.
"We will respect them, but we will not take things for granted."
"Now that we are the last Malaysian team standing and we are taking on a Singaporean side, a lot of pride is at stake," he added.
"In a way, we are representing every Malaysian team, so we want to keep the FA Cup in Malaysia."
PROBABLE LIONSXII LINE-UP:
l Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Gabriel Quak, Safuwan Baharudin, Izzdin Shafiq, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam.
This article was first published on May 23, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.