An under-strength Kelantan were left with a mountain to climb in the second leg of the AFC Cup quarter-final next week after getting whipped 5-1 by Iraq’s best team, Arbil SC, at the Francouse Al Hareeri Stadium.
The Malaysian double winners, who were without seven regulars, held their own against the hosts in the first half and went into the interval with a 1-1 score-line, but the lack of concentration as a result of tiredness, caused them to disintegrate and leak in four more goals in the second period.
Both teams exchanged early attacks with Shakir Shaari testing the goalkeeper in the sixth minute before Khairul Fahmi Che Mat was forced into a save following an Arbil header straight after.
Arbil dominated the possession from then onwards without causing the visitors much trouble while Kelantan looked surprisingly comfortable when they had the ball.
The home side did however open the scoring in the 38th minute when a 30-yard half-volley from midfielder Halgurd Mulla flew past Khairul Fahmi into the net.
The Red Warriors went back at Arbil’s defence in search of the equalizer and got their just rewards when Saudi Arabian referee Marai Mohammed Alawaji pointed to the spot after Denny Antwi was upended in the area by Syrian international Nadim Sabagh. Captain Badri Radzi stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way to put Kelantan back on level footing.
The Iraqi champions started the second half slightly more aggressively than the first and their change in approach was awarded with a penalty of their own in the 49th minute, from which Amjad Radhi scored to put them back in front.
In the 64th minute, Kelantan were almost made to pay for allowing Abdelrazzaq Al Hussain to run freely from midfield into the penalty box but the lanky midfielder scuffed his shot at the last minute.
Arbil did get the third goal they were looking for a minute later, when Luay Salah pounced to sweep the ball into an empty net after Khairul Fahmi spilled a shot from Nadim.
Six minutes after that, Kelantan went further behind when Nawzad Shirzad scored Arbils’s fourth via a long range effort.
Kelantan lost their discipline after this and Arbil were given more space to create chances, but the Western Asians’ poor finishing stopped them from adding to their tally.
Nawzad then sealed Kelantan’s fate in stoppage time when he curled in a wonderful free-kick to make the final score a rather depressing read for all Kelantan fans.