More than once, LionsXII coach V Sundramoorthy yelled and gestured to his players on the pitch.
"Calm down!", was his urgent instruction. He had every reason to worry that his charges might lose their heads - especially after substitute Shahfiq Ghani, one of the coolest heads in the team, lost his temper following a sliding tackle from the back.
Last night's Malaysia Cup opener between the LionsXII and Kedah, which ended 2-2, was physical, heated, and sometimes just downright nasty.
"It was one of the dirtiest games we've ever played," said midfielder Isa Halim after the match. "There were so many off-the-ball incidents that I'm sure the cameras didn't catch. "Running side by side with an opponent, there was a lot of punching and kicking."
What frustrated Isa and the rest of the LionsXII players was not so much the physical nature of the match. It was referee Wan Mohd Tarmizi's penchant for blowing his whistle at every niggling foul.
"He kept stopping the game every time a player went down, that was what got both teams further frustrated," 27-year-old Isa added. "If the referee wanted to call the game that way, fine. But then there were also some wild challenges which went unpunished."
Faris Ramli and defender Shakir Hamzah felt the brunt of Kedah's hard challenges, while skipper Shahril Ishak eventually fell victim to Kedah's rough tactics in the 74th minute when he had to be stretchered off due to a knee injury. Booked
In total, six players - three from each team - were booked.
After the match, a relaxed Baihakki Khaizan, who on several occasions protested furiously against some of the referee's decisions during the game, simply said the referee "could've done better".
He added: "It's normal when players get agitated during the game, especially when there's so much at stake. "There were certain moments when both teams were really fired up... I thought the referee's decision-making could have been better to deal with that."
Kedah coach Antonio Seric sang a similar tune at the post-match press conference.
When asked if he thought it was a "dirty match", he responded: "Considering how both teams play; both with high pressing games, it was normal for there to be contact, fouls and yellow cards.
"We took the risk of playing that way. We had two players injured in the first half as well."
In the end, Seric was delighted with his team's hard-earned point, which was clinched by a last-minute penalty scored by Croatian striker Alen Guc. Kedah's Syafiq Ahmad dribbled across the perimeter of the penalty area, before getting caught by Shakir Hamzah and falling down.
"He played for the penalty, and he got it. It was very soft." Isa said. "But this is our second year in the Malaysian league, we should be used to this. Our next game against Sarawak (Saturday, in Kuching) will be more physical and testy for sure. "We just have to be man up and deal with it. We will need fighters for that game."
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