Hafiz Kamal scored the winner to settle an outstanding match between both sides in a thrilling display of football at the Darul Makmur Stadium
If any outside observer wants to take in a recorded match of the Malaysian Super League (MSL), then there would be no better match to be selected than the game between Pahang FA and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
Both sides played their part in front of a sold-out Darul Makmur Stadium on a wonderful pitch as they served up a fantastic display of football.
Play was end-to-end right from kick-off. Like the prized bullfighter taunting the bull, Pahang and JDT took turns to be the bullfighter respectively. Buoyed by a raucous home crowd, Pahang started on the front foot with Azidan Sarudin dictating the game in midfield. His passes wide to R. Gopinathan and Azamuddin Akil cut JDT open time and again.
As it is with games of high energy, sometimes the enthusiasm and occasion gets to the head of the players. Pahang’s captain, Razman Roslan replicated that Nigel De Jong flying kick on Safiq Rahim and like the infamous Dutchman, was lucky to see only a yellow card.
Razman’s relief would turn to joy in the matter of minutes as Matias Conti banged in the opening goal of the game. Hafiz Kamal’s through pass was perhaps slightly over hit, but Izuan Jarudin failed to notice Conti sneaking up behind him. After nicking the ball away, the Argentine coolly slotted past Norazlan Razali.
However, Conti was to be eclipsed by another Argentine as JDT slowly but surely got themselves back into the match. Marquee signing Pablo Aimar produced his arguably his best 45 minutes for JDT. Demanded the ball at every opportunity, Aimar combined well with Luciano Figueroa and Amri Yahyah with quick incisive one-twos.
The little Argentinian would reap the rewards for his efforts and industry with a spectacular outward curling effort into the roof of the Pahang net, from just outside the penalty box. Amri’s cutback to the mercurial playmaker was inch perfect and Aimar didn’t disappoint. The goal came right before half time and sent Carlos Jimenez into the dressing room as the happier of the two coaches.
It took only two minutes from the restart to wipe that smile from Jimenez’s face as Pahang roared back into lead. From a free-kick, Damion Stewart’s header bounced back off the post. There was a clutch of players inside the box but somehow the ball rolled out kindly to Fauzi Roslan. His left foot shoot was weak but well placed enough to roll into the net.
After the goal, Pahang seemed to be willing to sit back and allow JDT more possession. Safee Sali was brought on as JDT went in search of the equaliser, with Aimar switched from central to a wider role. That move didn’t last long though as Aimar looked to have picked up a hamstring injury and was taken off in the 63rd minute.
Ironically, that turned out to be a change of significant value. Safiq’s perfect free-kick delivery was met by the head of Safee. The path of the ball was central but much too powerful for Khairul Azhan to stop it.
The game turned into a bit of a farce for a short period as scuffles emerged all over the pitch, but the drama didn’t just end there.
Right at the death, in the last minute of the three allocated for injury time, Pahang grabbed all the points. Azidan’s free kick was glanced in by Hafiz and the stadium erupted in happiness. It was slack marking by the JDT defenders, who got caught by Hafiz ghosting into the danger area.
It was a glorious end to a breath-taking match. The Elephants marched on but the Southern Tigers should also be applauded for their contributions to the game. A wonderful advert for the MSL and Malaysian football in general.