BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Pahang will take a two-goal lead into the second leg of their FA Cup quarter-final tie against Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), when they defeated the Southern Tigers 3-1 in the first leg on Saturday. In the match that was held at the Darulmakmur Stadium, Syamim Yahya opened the scoring for the hosts, but Marcos Antonio equalised in the first half. However, Matheus Alves and substitute Bright Dike gave the Elephants the win by scoring one goal each in the second half.
Pahang boss Dollah Salleh fielded only three of his foreign players at the start, opting to pick former Malaysia forward Ashari Samsudin ahead of Nigerian Dike, who started the match from the bench. Alves was paired up with Ashari, while Wan Zaharulnizam, Azam Azih, Syamim and Mohamadou Sumareh manned the midfield department. Faisal Rosli, Matthew Davies, Muslim Ahmad and Heo Jae-won protected custodian Wan Azraie Wan Teh's goal.
Defending champions JDT head coach Benjamin Mora got to field all of his foreigners, combining Brian Ferreira and Gonzalo Cabrera with Malaysia forward Hazwan Bakri in front. Afiq Fazail, Gabriel Guerra and Safiq Rahim were the men in the engine department, while Fazly Mazlan, Fadhli Shas, Marcos and Azrif Nasrulhaq Badrulzaman were in defence. Izham Tarmizi was the Southern Tigers' goalkeeper in the match.
Alves dribbled into the JDT box not two minutes into the match, but his finishing while on the run was poor, hitting only the side netting on the right.
However, the homeside would open the scoring eleven minutes later, through Syamim's header. Davies on the right spotted a run from midfield made by the midfielder, and floated in an inch-perfect early cross. Goalkeeper Izham rushed forward to intercept the delivery, but Syamim was quicker in connecting with the ball with a sharp header, to give the Elephants the lead.
Despite taking the lead, Pahang's defence somehow lost their focus and conceded the equaliser in the 21st minute.
A long freekick by Safiq was headed towards the goal by a criminally unmarked Fadhli in the left of the Pahang box, but Azraei seemed to have the attempt under control. However, the keeper surprisingly punched the ball straight into Marcos instead, and the Brazilian did not have to move a muscle to score the equaliser as the ball bounced against him and into the net.
On top of the goalkeeper's gaffe, questions must also be asked of his defenders, who allowed the JDT centre-back to have so much space to make the header.
In the 28th minute Sumareh sensationally dribbled past three defenders into the JDT penalty box, but just when he was left with the shot to make, he slipped on the drenched grass.
Five minutes from the halftime whistle, a series of short passes by JDT left Ferreira with only the finishing touch to be made at the edge of the penalty box. But he disappointingly sent his snapshot over the crossbar instead.
The first half ended 1-1.
Just three minutes in, the Tok Gajah went in front again, this time through Alves' goal. A long goal kick taken by Azraei was punted further up the field by Ashari towards the edge of the JDT penalty area, and Azrif and the Brazilian tussled for the bouncing ball while Izham rushed out. But instead of trying to clear the ball, the defender attempted to shield it from Alves instead, to let Izham pluck it out of the air. However, the forward managed to nick the ball from both JDT players by chipping it over the goalkeeper and into the empty net.
Hazwan missed a golden chance to give his team a quick equaliser two minutes later. A short low pass from the right by Safiq found him inside the Pahang penalty area, but the forward's subsequent first-time shot went wide. It was a very disappointing miss, but no one must have been more let down by it than Ferreira, whose doggedness had earlier kept the ball in his possession before he passed it to the JDT captain.
Despite the assist, Ashari was then taken off for Bright Dike by Dollah, while Mora substituted Ferreira for Amirulhadi Zainal.
The Nigerian did not take long to make an impact. Just five minutes after he was brought on, he scored following a corner kick. The delivery from the right missed the mob of both teams' players tussling in the middle of the six-yard box, which included Izham who dove in to try and palm the ball away, and the ball fell to Dike. He was left with the easy task of nudging the ball into the empty net to make the scoreline 3-1.
Perhaps wanting to minimise the damage and settle the tie at home in the return fixture instead, Mora then took off Hazwan to bring on defender Mahali Jasuli with six minutes of fulltime to go.
The match ended 3-1, but the tie is surely far from over. In the second leg match scheduled to be played at Larkin in three weeks' time, JDT will surely turn on the intensity missing from their performance on Saturday.
Pahang: Azraie (GK), Faisal, Jae-won, Muslim, Davies (C), Zaharulnizam, Azam (Salomon 74'), Syamim, Soumareh, Ashari (Dike 59'), Alves.
JDT: Izham (GK), Fazly, Fadhli, Antonio, Azrif, Guerra, Safiq (C), Afiq (Safawi 89'), Cabrera, Hazwan (Mahali 84'), Ferreira (Amirulhadi 64').