BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The Malaysia Cup returns on Tuesday, with all eight of week one group matches taking place in the same evening. Goal takes a look at some of the notable matches that will take place on that day.
Two teams have qualified for their first ever Malaysia Cup campaign this year, Premier League sides UiTM FC and PKNP FC, both sides the surprise packages of Malaysia's second tier this season. Coincidentally, both teams just met in the Premier League match last Friday, a match that PKNP won 1-0.
Although university side UiTM have been a mainstay of the second tier since 2013 and done well to punch above their weight this season, it is PKNP who have been the miracle story. The Perak feeder club were promoted from the FAM Cup at the end of last season, and are currently third in the second division.
PKNP's qualification to the cup and their current position in the league is a testament to the good work done by head coach Abu Bakar Fadzim, even when they had earlier played in the first stretch of the season with only three foreign players; and not the maximum allowed four players.
But make no mistake, UiTM's achievement so far this season is no less admirable, and head coach Wan Mustaffa Wan Ismail's charges are serious about their debut appearance. The club management has even authorised renovation work on the floodlights of their home ground inside the university during the mid-season Ramadan break, to allow the UiTM Stadium to host evening matches beginning from this Malaysia Cup campaign.
This Tuesday, PKNP in Group A will host Super League side T-Team at the Perak Stadium, where they have remained unbeaten in all competitions this season. The two sides have never met competitively before. Last weekend, PKNP defeated UiTM 1-0 in the league, while T-Team lost on the road to Selangor.
Meanwhile in Group C, UiTM will play away to Kelantan, with both sides having been defeated in their respective league matches over the previous weekend. This will be the first ever competitive encounter between the two sides.
2016 (and 2015) finalists
The final matches of the 2015 and 2016 editions both featured the same teams, and of course the same venue the Shah Alam Stadium. The 2015 edition was won by Selangor who lifted their historic 33rd title with a 2-0 win over Kedah in regulation time, while the following year the Red Eagles avenged their earlier defeat to the Red Giants with a penalty shootout win.
It's probably still too early to tell if either or both teams will be in the final for the third consecutive time, but Selangor have been the more eager of the two sides. Indonesian star Andik Vermansah has repeatedly voiced out his eagerness to start the campaign, while nothing of the same has been heard from Kedah players.
That is not necessarily a bad thing for Kedah, considering that the Malaysia Cup winners are not afforded a place in any continental competitions, the fact that this season the Red Eagles have already captured the FA Cup (which has granted them a place in the 2018 AFC Cup), and that they still have a mathematical chance of pipping Super League leaders Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) to the top spot.
Kedah celebrating their 2016 Malaysia Cup win. Photo by Simon Yap
On Tuesday, Kedah in Group C will host relegation-threatened Super League side Melaka United, with their latest encounter, a league match on March 4 ending in a 4-0 win to Kedah. Last Saturday, Melaka drew 1-1 away to PKNS FC, while Kedah fell to a surprise 3-2 defeat at home to Perak, their first home defeat in all competitions this season.
Selangor in Group D meanwhile will host Premier League's Terengganu, with the Red Giants last weekend defeating another Terengganu-based side T-Team 4-2 at home, and the Turtles coming from behind to nick a 2-2 draw against JDT II in front of their own fans. Although Selangor play in the higher league as compared to Terengganu, the recent record favours the Turtles. Out of their five most recent encounters, Terengganu have won three, Selangor one, with the remaining match ending in a draw.
In Group A, Super League runners up Pahang will host Premier League leaders Negeri Sembilan, with both sides having already met in this season's FA Cup semi-final stage earlier this year; a two-legged encounter that the Tok Gajah won 3-1 on aggregate.
Their latest five encounters have all been won by Pahang, but last weekend Pahang fell to a surprise 2-1 away defeat to Felda United, while Negeri Sembilan defeated Perlis 1-0 at home.
In Group D, JDT will host Sarawak. Wait for our preview of the match on Tuesday!
Full matchday 1 fixture
Group A: Pahang vs Negeri Sembilan, T-Team vs PKNP
Group B: Perak vs PKNS, Felda United vs Kuala Lumpur
Group C: Kedah vs Melaka United, Kelantan vs UiTM
Group D: JDT vs Sarawak, Selangor vs Terengganu
(All matches kick off at 9.00 pm, Tuesday July 4)