BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The Red Eagles showed their intention of becoming one of the title contenders this season, when they defeated Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) on penalty shootout in the Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Cup on Friday, after the regulation time had ended level with a 1-1 scoreline. JDT's goal was scored by Safiq Rahim, a first half penalty, before Kedah's Baddrol Bakhtiar equalised in the second.
Defending cup and MSL champions JDT started with only three foreign players on the pitch, with Jerónimo Barrales starting from the bench. Meanwhile pre-season signing Malaysia forward Hazwan Bakri lead the attack for the home side at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium.
The visitors meanwhile started with all four of their foreign players, including Danish striker Ken Ilso Larsen who paired up with former Malaysia international Fakri Saarani. Liridon Krasniqi led the midfield, but team captain Khairul Helmi Johari started from the bench due to a last-minute knock, while winger Syazwan Zainon was not deemed fit enough to be included in the squad.
Brian Ferreira could have put his new team in front in the tenth minute following his stunning ball control in the Kedah box, but his follow up shot towards the bottom far post went wide. A minute later, it was Gonzalo Cabrera's turn to fail to hit the target with his snapshot.
20 minutes in, it was all the Southern Tigers, who showed that they haven't been affected by the sudden managerial change, although their new imports were relatively playing in a more subdued manner than their former striker duo Juan Martin Lucero and Jorge Pereyra Diaz. Kedah meanwhile were reduced to defending near their own penalty area, with Krasniqi having to put out the constant fire.
The match was also a physical one in the beginning, with four yellow cards shown in the first 30 minutes alone; to Kedah's Asri Mardzuki and JDT's S. Kunanlan and Brian Ferreira.
The first goal of the match only came five minutes before the halftime whistle. Cabrera looked to have been fouled by Syawal Nordin in the box, but replay showed that the Argentine simulated his fall. But the referee did not change his mind, and Safiq Rahim slotted the ball in, although Kedah custodian Abdul Hadi Hamid managed to dive the right way.
Johor Darul Ta'zim players celebrate Safiq Rahim's goal. Photo by Mohd Fauzi Saim/CSN
Surprisingly, just a minute later, mere minutes before halftime, Hazwan was taken off to give way to Barrales.
But just when many were thinking that the first half would end in a routine manner, drama surfaced. Kunanlan brought down Fakri at the edge of the box, and the match official promptly shown the winger his second yellow card, gave him his marching orders, and pointed to the spot for the second time in the first half.
He was instantaneously mobbed by the players, and had to consult his assistant. The result? The penalty was changed to a freekick right at the edge of the JDT box (rather rightly), although he stuck to his guns with the sending off. Baddrol then tried for the top of the goalmouth with the freekick, but Tigers goalkeeper Farizal Marlias never took his eyes off the ball and tipped it over the crossbar.
The first half ended 1-0 to the Southern Tigers, with many surely wishing that there were a few more minutes left in it, with the tempo and drama flaring up at the end.
Just five minutes into the second half, new JDT head coach has used up all of his remaining substitutions. Azamuddin Akil was taken off for defender Azrif Nasrulhaq in a tactical change, while Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak was substituted off for Fadhli Shas.
For a while, tt looked like JDT were going to be successful in shutting up shop so early in the match. But Baddrol was not going to let that happen.
Receiving a pass from the left just outside of the JDT box, the midfielder spotted goalkeeper Farizal slightly off his line and struck there and then. His waist-high attempt struck the right post and bounced into the net, for the equaliser.
No more goals were scored in the second half, which meant the league opener ended in a draw, but there was still the cup winner to be decided, with a penalty shootout.
In the end, it took new signing Brian Ferreira's penalty miss to decide the winner, with Kedah taking the cup home after the penalty shootout ended 5-4.
Although the league opener effectively ended in a draw, the momentum as well as the cup is now with the Red Eagles, who have been slated as one of the challengers for the league title this season.
For JDT meanwhile, it seems that newly-appointed head coach Benjamin Mora still has a lot to work on, especially their new foreign players.
JDT: Farizal (GK), Fazly, Marcos, Aidil (Fadhli 51'), Kunanlan, Amirulhadi, Safiq (C), Azzamudin (Azrif 46'), Pereira, Cabrera, Hazwan (Barrales 43').
Kedah: Abdul Hadi (GK), Asri (Fitri 69'), Anderson, Syawal (Helmi 84'), Rizal, Akram, Liridon, Baddrol (C), Sandro (Farhan Roslan 66'), Fakri, Ken Ilso.