BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Pahang claimed their third FA Cup title, after beating Selangor 2-0 in the final match on Saturday. In the match that was held at the Bukit Jali National Stadium, Azam Azih opened the scoring in the 23rd minute through a fantastic shot, and Patrick Cruz added their second from the spot in the 62nd minute.
The Red Giants, playing in their first FA Cup final since 2009, started without the sidelined centre back Willian Pacheco, who was injured. Khairul Azhan Khalid kept his place in between the sticks, Razman Roslan replaced Pacheco, partnering up with Alfonso de la Cruz. Also in defence were Kannan Kalaiselvan and Amirul Ashraf Ariffin. Amri Yahyah, Syahmi Safari and Saiful Ridzuwan Selamat were in midfield, while top scorer Rufino Segovia led the attacking line, alongside Ilham Udin Armaiyn and Kugan Dhevarajan.
Pahang head coach Dollah Salleh made a surprise decision, dropping Issey Nakajima-Farran for Brazilian forward Cruz, who started in his first match since his injury and recovery. He was assisted by Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Mohamadou Sumareh and Austin Amutu. Azam and Safuwan Baharudin started in midfield, while Matthew Davies, Bunyamin Umar, Muslim Ahmad and Faisal Rosli covered goalkeeper Helmi Eliza Elias.
Five minutes into the match, Sumareh was asked to step off the pitch by referee Zulkarnain Zakaria. He was apparently facing a technical issue with his jersey, and had to have it rectified by the bench.
Seven minutes later, Amutu struck from outside following a layoff, but his shot went wide.
In the first 20 minutes, favourites Pahang wielded their midfield superiority to keep the Red Giants mostly in their final third.
It wasn't long before the Elephants took the lead. A headed layoff by Safuwan fell into the path of Azam in the 23rd minute, and the Malaysia U-23 midfielder struck it first time from the edge of the box into the far corner, too fast for former Pahang goalkeeper Azhan's reach.
Amri then received the first booking of the match, in the 28th minute, for a reckless challenge on Sumareh that should have been punished with a red card.
After that, it was the Elephants' who asked most of the questions, spreading the Red Giants' defence thin through Norshahrul and Sumareh's forays down the wings.
In the very first minute of the second half, Cruz missed a glorious chance to double Pahang's lead. He failed to expect Sumareh's pinpoint cross from the right, and could not make the right contact with his free header, the chance going begging.
Selangor head coach Nazliazmi Nasir made the first substitution of the match in the 57th minute, taking off forward Kugan for Indonesia U-23 midfielder Evan Dimas Darmono. Amri pushed up as a forward, with Evan slotting in the vacancy left by the veteran player..
Spanish striker almost found the equaliser minutes later after using his physique getting past Bunyamin, but sent his shot over the crossbar.
Pahang finally got their second, when the referee pointed to the spot after Alfonso fouled Amutu in the box in the 62nd minute. Azhan dove the right way to get a touch on the Brazilian's effort, but the ball still slipped his grasp to end up in the back of the net.
Norshahrul almost made it three moments later, dribbling past three Selangor defenders, but his shot was kept out by Azhan.
Youngster Syahmi was the Red Giants' next change, taken off for former Pahang star Azamuddin Akil in the 71st minute. Dollah made Pahang's first change; taking off Cruz for Wan Zaharulnizam Zakaria.
In the 76th minute Ilham looked to have been pushed in the Pahang box by a defender, but referee did not point to the spot. The counter attacking move from the incident resulted in Razman being booked for a cynical challenge.
With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Dollah's charges mainly ran the clock down against their opponents who had been second best throughout the match, and the match ended in a 2-0 win to them.
Sadly, they are ineligible for a spot in the AFC Champions League play-offs next year. Late last year, they declined to play in the AFC Cup for two years, for declining to take part in the 2018 competition, despite having qualified for it and having the required licences.
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