BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Although the match was perhaps not a classic final match with the only goal coming in extra time, scored by substitute Fadzrul Danel Nizam, the quality of refereeing produced by referee Takuto Okabe and his assistants Akane Yagi and Osamu Nomura earned the attention of those watching at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium and home.
The foreign officials were appointed by competitions organiser Malaysian Football League (MFL) following the horrendous quality of refereeing seen in the most recent Malaysian cup final match; the 2018 Malaysia Cup final match between Perak and Terengganu FC.
In Saturday's encounter, Okabe asserted control over the match from the very beginning, booking three players in the first 30 minutes alone, ensuring that both camps were on their best behaviour for the rest of the encounter.
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Kedah boss Aidil Sharin Sahak remarked on the bold changes he made to his starting line-up, playing midfielder Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik as centre back, filling in for the suspended Renan Alves, and opting for Alif Yusof as left back over the more experienced Azmeer Yusof.
"Praise Allah, today Amirul showed he can play in any positions. It was a big risk as we only had five days to prepare, and today he performed well with the support provided by his teammates.
"I never expected this (the cup win). Anywhere in the world, it's not easy when a coach takes over at a new team. I entered a new culture and environment, having only half of the players from the previous season. The first thing I did was to build a team, to break down the cliques. Tonight they showed discipline and commitment, they listened and wanted to be a part of a family,"
Team captain Baddrol Bakhtiar also echoed his boss' sentiment, remarking on the unity shown by his teammates.
"I'm happy to be able to bring the trophy back to [the state of Kedah] Darul Aman. It wasn't easy for us, as a new team under a new coach. We had faced challenges, but the team spirit we had helped us to win."
They both praised the quality of refereeing, which perhaps helped them edge Perak. In injury time, Perak right back Amirul Azhan was sent off for picking up a second yellow card, which in turn stretched the Bos Gaurus' defence thin in extra time, leading to Fadzrul's goal.
"I think he (Okabe) was very fair and firm in his decisions throughout the 120 minutes. He also let the game continue often, which was good as it helped the flow and momentum of the game. He did a very, very good job tonight," said Aidil.
"The referee has earned my praise tonight; he knew how to handle the match and hopefully we can learn from him," remarked Baddrol.
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