Selangor suffered only their 2nd loss in the AFC Cup but it was enough to knock them out of the competition.
BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
Selangor go in search of their 2nd win in the AFC Cup to leapfrog over their opponent of the day, Arema of Indonesia as both team faced each other in the 5th round of the group stage. Paulo Rangel and Steve Pantelidis are the only two foreign imports which Mehmet Durakovic is able to field for one reason or another. The stadium in Malang was packed to the rafters as both teams kicked off the match.
The opening period of the match was a case of both teams testing out each other without overcommitting to attack and leaving themselves outnumbered at the back. Arema’s Gonzales was the first to have a go with a pot shot from outside the box but his volley swerved just away from goal. Selangor’s first real chance came in the 21st minute when Shahrom Kalam strode forward and was picked out by Rangel. Unfortunately for the former Perak man, his hurriedly taken shot caused Meiga no trouble, in Arema’s goal.
Gonzales continued to be the fulcrum of the home side’s attacks, getting in shots and headers but just couldn’t beat Farizal Marlias. Bustomi, Sukadana and Gustavo were gaining a foothold in midfield for Arema to dominate the lion share of possession. Veenod and Pantelidis did a lot of off the ball running, just to keep these three midfielders in check.
With the match seemingly heading into half time scoreless, disaster struck for the Red Giants. Once again, Gonzales was involved. With Farizal already beaten, his goal-bound shot was stopped on the line by Shahrom using his hands. A red card was shown to the centre back and Gonzales calmly slotted in the ensuing spot kick.
With Arema in the ascendency and already in the lead, it looks a mammoth task facing Selangor in the second half. It doesn’t help matters that they have to do it with a man less than their opponent. Just like the weekend, a red card to the centre back meant that Pantelidis had to drop back into defence, leaving a gaping hole in terms of physical presence in midfield.
To his credit, Durakovic kept two strikers on the pitch despite the numerical advantage. In a way, that meant that the coach of Arema, Suharno, needed to keep his midfielders in check and ensure that they just go thundering forward as a unit. To prove that the tactics worked, the second half was a more balanced encounter than the first half.
Maybe it comes from recent practice but Rangel showed that he could remain a threat even when he’s surrounded by a clutch of opposition players. The Brazilian does really well to dribble past two or three players but the moves frequently come to naught. Kunanlan was doing the dual role of a winger when in attack and a central midfielder when defending.
Energetic midfielder, Veenod had the best chance to equalise for Selangor when he made a great run into the box and was picked out superbly by Kunanlan but Veenod’s fluffed his chance with an air kick. Arema fans must be relieved to see that chance gone. At the other end, Alberto was relishing the huge amount of space between Selangor’s defence and midfield, constantly dropping off to pick up the ball but didn’t have his range right, shotting from distance.
In the end, Arema hung on for the all-important 3 points to secure their place in the knock-out stages of the AFC Cup. Try as they might, Selangor just couldn’t muster enough to trouble Meiga and Arema. After the high of beating Hanoi in the previous game, being knocked out of the AFC Cup in the next game isn’t what the Red Giants were hoping for. For now, all concentration in the Malaysian Super League for them.