Malaysia Cup: Kedah eyeing LionsXII's scalp

Kedah coach Ahmad Shafie

SINGAPORE - The LionsXII may have an unbeaten record at Jalan Besar, winning 10 and drawing one out of 11 home league games, en route to winning the Malaysian Super League title.

But Kedah, who finished fourth in the second division and are the lowest-ranked team in the Malaysia Cup, have cause to be optimistic about their Group D clash tonight.

Of all the Malaysian teams the LionsXII have faced in the last two seasons, the Canaries are the only team they have yet to beat, following draws at Alor Star and Jalan Besar.

In the Singapore leg, Kedah also became the only team to score three goals at Fortress Jalan Besar.

And after a week of training on artificial turf back home, Kedah coach Ahmad Shafie told The New Paper: "I think with the training we have had, we can match LionsXII. If we perform to our potential, we can bring back points."

He then pointed to the 2-2 FA Cup draw with Johor Darul Takzim, who finished third in the top division, as the benchmark he would like his team to aim for.

"We took a 2-0 lead and we showed we can match the best teams in the competition," said Ahmad.

Fall from grace

However, he expressed disappointment at how his team have fallen from grace after the highs of back-to-back Treble-winning seasons in 2007 and 2008.

He added: "Our problem is a lack of consistency. A lot of times, we should have gotten the points, but we ended up without even one.

"It's not that we can't play. We just need to be more focused and consistent."

Incredibly, Kedah chairman Paduka Mukhriz Mahathir has set a Malaysia Cup final target, but Ahmad prefers to take it step by step and aim to progress from a group that also includes Sarawak and Perak.

Key to Kedah's hopes will be forward Khyril Muhymeen, who was on the scoresheet when his club last visited the LionsXII.

The 26-year-old told TNP: "We cannot be afraid or negative.

"We are excited to kickstart our Malaysia Cup campaign and we will definitely give the LionsXII a good fight and try to keep our unbeaten record against them."

The hosts will be up against another familiar face in 33-year-old Chilean midfielder Nelson San Martin, who played for Home United in 2010.

He said: "I know Isa Halim, a very good defensive midfielder, and Shahril Ishak, who can kill teams with his eye for goal, because we were teammates before.

"But Kedah have improved towards the end of the season when we won seven out of our last nine games.

"We are a passing and attacking team now and we want to spring a surprise and qualify for the knockout rounds."

"I think with the training we have had, we can match LionsXII. If we perform to our potential, we can bring back points.

"Our problem is a lack of consistency. A lot of times, we should have gotten the points, but we ended up without even one.

"It's not that we can't play. We just need to be more focused and consistent."

Cup final will be at Shah Alam

The LionsXII will not only have the chance to recreate the double-winning spirit of 1994 when the Malaysia Cup kicked off on Monday, but they also know they could play the final in the same stadium as the legendary team, too.

The Bukit Jalil Stadium was closed from yesterday until next June so that the much-maligned pitch can be replaced.

Malaysia Stadium Corporation chief executive Ahmad Helmi Harun made the announcement following farcical scenes on Aug 10, when Barcelona refused to play a friendly with Malaysia at Bukit Jalil after their four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi was injured.

Less than 24 hours before kick-off, the tour promoters had to scramble to prepare the game to be played at Shah Alam instead.

Competitions committee chairman Afendi Hamzah said the work on the pitch is due to begin in late October or early November.

This means the Malaysia Cup final, scheduled for Nov 3, and the Tigers' international matches during this period, will all be held at Shah Alam, where Singapore beat Pahang 4-0 in front of a capacity crowd 19 years ago.

LionsXII skipper Shahril Ishak said: "It is an extra motivation for us to aim to reach the final at Shah Alam, where our heroes won Singapore's last Malaysia Cup in 1994.

"We were a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the final last year and we know how difficult it is.

"We want to do well in this competition but, for now, we have to focus on getting out of the group stages and then take it one round at a time."

In last year's exciting Malaysia Cup final, Kelantan beat ATM FA 3-2 in extra-time at the Shah Alam Stadium, after inspectors deemed the Bukit Jalil turf as not up to scratch.

This year's FA Cup final did take place at Bukit Jalil in June, but it was a poor quality game in which Kelantan beat Johor Darul Takzim 1-0, with players struggling to find their footing on the pitch.


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