MALAYSIA - As the Malaysia Cup season kicks off today, football fans across the country and those following the league are all excited. Critics and fans alike have started predicting and debating which team will emerge champions on the final day on Nov 3.
But after all is said and done, defending champions Kelantan will not want to surrender their title without a proper scrap.
A mouthwatering final between 32-time champions Selangor and Singapore's LionsXII are my picks to battle for the trophy but picking an outright winner is too close to call, but nonetheless, if the two traditional rivals do face off, it will be a dream match.
Singapore's Lions, who put to shame local clubs by becoming Super League champions, and Selangor must justify their seeding in the group stage and come through the quarter-finals and semi-finals in order to meet in the final.
Selangor have not won the Malaysia Cup since their 3-0 win over Perlis in the 2005 final. Pressure is surely mounting on coach Irfan Bakti considering that Selangor, under him, have not won a single title.
Their last title came in 2010 when they won the Super League under coach K. Devan. They also won the Charity Shield that same year. With Selangor, you are supposed to win titles as that is all that matters. In the past, winning titles was a way of life for the Klang Valley side until of late.
Selangor have yet to sort out their their problems in attack ever since the departure of Safee Sali to Indonesian Super League side Pelita Jaya three years ago.
Irfan must deliver the trophy as nothing less will do but for sure, Selangor will face tough opposition from teams like Kelantan, Armed Forces, Perak, Darul Takzim and the Lions.
This season and the previous one have been somewhat unlucky for Selangor as they came close to winning the league and Cup only to have Lady Luck desert them on the home stretch.
Irfan has done a good job but it is not enough for a prestigious team like Selangor.
In the recent league, Selangor could have won the title had it not been for a series of draws -- 10 in all -- against two losses. They also managed 10 wins.
Irfan has players with talent in internationals Norazlan Razali, Mahalli Jasuli, Asraruddin Putra Omar, K. Gurusamy, S. Kunanlan and midfielder-turned-striker Amri Yahyah along with controversial Liberia-born striker Forkey Doe.
Doe, being Selangor's top scorer in the league, is a striker with great quality but is inconsistent while Amri is erratic.
Irfan's other problem is the lack of a good quality midfielder who can supply the strikers with the ammo. Gurusamy has been outstanding but is more of a defensive midfielder while former national youth player Abdul Shukor Jusoh and S. Veenod are fitted for central roles.
Selangor's performance in the league was affected by Veenod's injury but the former Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) FC player has reported for training and should be in the starting line-up.
Selangor have enough depth and quality and if everyone plays to his ability, they will be crowned Malaysia Cup champions for a 33rd time.
Winning the league has given the the Lions, comprising only five players above the age of 23, a tremendous boost ahead of the Malaysia Cup and December's Myanmar Sea Games.
The Lions, coached by former international V. Sundramoorthy, are confident of inflicting further embarrassment on local teams by becoming the first Singapore side to lift the Malaysia Cup since 1994.
The team depend heavily on attacking midfielder Shahril Ishak while the others provide perfect cover.
The Lions reached the semi-finals last season and will be looking to go one better this time around.