BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The 2017 Malaysian football season was officially kicked off with the JDT vs Kedah match on Friday, but five more round one matches will be played out on Saturday evening, if the weather allows it that is.
Kelantan vs Melaka United FC
The incessant rain that has come down in the East Coast area of Peninsular Malaysia since Friday has led to the postponement of this match to a yet to be determined date, announced the home team on Saturday afternoon.
Felda United FC vs PKNS FC
Last year's runners up Felda will host promotion side PKNS at the Tun Abdul Razak Stadium, Jengka. The Fighters, who will also compete in the AFC Cup this season, have been largely quiet in the pre-season, but they have signed several big local names early on such as forwards Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Stuart Wark, Fazrul Hazli Kadri and Fakrul Aiman Sidid, and winger Wan Zack Haikal.
And just like their Saturday opponents, the Red Ants too have made significant changes to their local player roster, signing former Malaysia internationals Azmi Muslim, Sabre Mat Abu, Amirizdwan Taj, Khyril Muhymeen, K. Gurusamy as well as veteran Malaysia striker Safee Sali.
The two sides met once last year, in the FA Cup, with the then-lower tier side PKNS producing a major upset, knocking out Felda 3-2 en route to their final match appearance.
Furthermore, in their five past encounters, PKNS have won four of the matches to Felda's one. The past five matches between the two sides that were played at Felda's homeground have also ended even, two wins for each side with one match ending in a draw.
A win for the visitors could be expected tonight in Jengka, or at least a draw.
Selangor vs Pulau Pinang
The pre-season internal drama involving the Red Giants have been discussed to the death, and now it is time for the players to prove they can put it all behind to focus on their job on the pitch. Selangor have been made president- and home-less in the fallout, as well as having to rely on youth players to bolster their squad due to players' departure. However, they are lucky to have developed several of the most prominent youth names in the country such as Malaysia U19 captain Syahmi Safari, who so impressed new head coach P. Maniam in the pre-season friendlies, that he revised his season objective from avoiding relegation to finishing in the top five.
The Panthers too have undergone a board change, which was thankfully eclipsed by Faiz Subri's capture of the Puskas Award recently. The arrival of famed former Bengaluru FC boss Ashley Westwood early on meant that the Panthers have had ample time to prepare for the 2017 season. They did not sign any big local names, but have changed three new foreign players, retaining the services of only Brazilian defender Reinaldo Lobo.
Last season, the two sides met twice in the league, with Selangor winning at home and the return fixture ending in a draw.
But Westwood himself admitted that his side may need longer to gel together, so the Panthers may stumble against the Red Giants, and the match at the Selayang Municipal Stadium will likely end in a draw.
The Red Giants are expected to continue using their 2016 kit against Pulau Pinang on Saturday, and in this season. Photo by Haizal Zainal / CSNSportsTalk
T-Team FC vs Sarawak
Another match that will take place in the East Coast involves T-Team, last season's surprise package and Sarawak at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium. This season the Titans have retained defender Abdoulaye Maïga and midfielder Dilshod Sharofetdinov, while signing Mamadou Samassa and re-signing Farhod Tadjiyev. Although they have lost the services of rising star Safawi Rasid to JDT, head coach Rahmad Darmawan and the management have stayed committed to the objective of promoting more young players into the senior team.
Sarawak too have doubled down on their commitment of utilising as many Sarawakian footballers as possible, having released several non-Sarawakian Malaysian footballers in the pre-season, while promoting their youth players. Head coach David Usop, appointed last season as K. Rajagobal's replacement, has been entrusted with the task of leading the Crocodiles once again. Meanwhile Sarawak have changed all of their foreign imports, including Philippines striker Mark Hartmann, and centre back Demerson Bruno Costa, who last played for the ill-fated Brazilian club Chapecoense last season.
Last season the two sides met twice, twice in the league and two more times in the Malaysia Cup, with T-Team winning three matches and the remaining match won by the East Malaysian side.
With team stability and home advantage on their side, expect the Titans to come away with all three points in Kuala Terengganu.
Perak vs Pahang
The remaining match of the first round will pit Perak against Pahang, at the Perak Stadium.
The Bos Gaurus fans must surely be anticipating the start of the new season, as their team have been on a spending spree in the pre-season. Although they have replaced all but one of their foreign players, it's their new local signings that have caught the attention of not just Perak fans, but also fans from all over the country. Despite having lost Fazrul Hazli Kadri to Felda and Nurridzuan Abu Hassan to Pahang, they have signed Selangor captain Shahrom Kalam and his teammates Hafiz Kamal and Hadi Yahya, JDT duo Nazrin Nawi and Jasazrin Jamaluddin, as well as Malaysia and JDT II forward Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak. Surely the Bos Gaurus now have no more excuse for subpar performance.
Pahang meanwhile have stayed out of the media limelight in the pre-season, but they too have been busy. Looking to roll back the effects of the botched attempt at privatisation in 2016 which among other things almost resulted in relegation, they have quietly dropped the FC at the end of the side's name, and rehired head coach Dollah Salleh, who left them at the end of the 2013 season. He has brought in all new foreign players including Mohamadou Sumareh, whom Dollah brought with him from Perlis.
Just like Perak, the Elephants have signed a number of famous local names such as Muslim Ahmad, Wan Zaharulnizam Zakaria, Ahmad Syamim Yahya, Christie Jayaseelan, Joseph Kalang Tie, Zubir Azmi, Ashari Samsudin, and Afif Amiruddin.
Their past five encounters have ended evenly, with Perak and Pahang each winning two matches, and one match ending in a draw.