BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After the scintillating match that was the first leg of the Kedah vs Pahang semi final match on Sunday night which ended 3-1 to the underdogs, Malaysian football fans understandably were hoping for a similar match in the other semi final, between Felda United and JDT I. The Southern Tigers went into the match seeking their second silverware this season after bagging the Super League title, whereas the home side were looking to make their second appearance in a final this season, and perhaps to win their first title this season, after coming in second place in this season's FA Cup.
And just in the seventh minute, Felda gave the first indication that it was going to be just as entertaining. Forward Junior Wilson received a pass outside the JDT box, and unleashed a shot that deceived the visitors' goalkeeper, Al-Hafiz Hamzah and ended in the back of the net. Replays showed that Al-Hafiz dove the wrong way due to a deflection caused by a half-hearted touch by centreback and skipper, Aidil Zafuan.
Nazrin Nawi had a chance to equalise in the 18th minute through a freekick just outside the Felda box, but it failed to dip under the bar.
All the while, the match was being played under a heavy Selayang rain, which was also peppered with thunder and lightning. The waterlogged pitch made things a lot harder for JDT defence, who kept making school boy errors, and at one point were seen arguing amongst each other after one such mistake.
In the 31st minute, a series of smart exchanges between Indra Putra and Makeche almost produced Felda's second, but the latter's half volley went just wide.
Five minutes later, Felda keeper Farizal Harun managed to keep out a deceptive set piece by JDT that ended with Amri Yahyah rifling a shot from the edge of the box. He saw the low shot late as his sight was blocked by a flurry of players inside the box, but he managed to make the right decision, palming the ball out at the last minute instead of trying to hold it.
The home side stamped their domination three minutes from the halftime whistle, following a hasty clearance from Daudsu Jamaludin. His clearance near the left touch was picked up by Syamim Yahya near the right, and Syamim made his way near the middle. His subsequent curler took a deflection off of a JDT defender, and escaped the grasp of Al-Hafiz to go in near the bottom corner of the far post.
Moments before the whistle, JDT's Asraruddin Putra and Felda's Nasriq Baharom were each booked in two separate incidents.
Five minutes into the second half, the visitors almost pulled one back through Amri who found himself with the ball on the right from a cross. He tried near the near post, but Farizal kept the attempt out. The veteran forward is known to have scored from such a tight angle before.
But they found their first nonetheless, when a Norshahrul Idlan through-pass found Jorge Diaz almost comically unmarked in the Felda box. He simply put the ball in near his near post.
To make matters worse, Nasriq received his second booking and his marching orders just minutes later, for a clumsy challenge on Diaz. The sending off meant forward, Wilson had to be taken off for defender Yaroslav Krushelnitskiv.
The subsequent freekick nearly produced the equaliser following a goalmouth scramble, but Farizal produced a stunning reflex save with his foot to keep the lead.
The save proved crucial in the 61st minute, when Felda added their third, despite their numerical disadvantage. Zambian forward Makeche Ndumba beat a defender down the right touch with his physique, before cutting into the penalty box. He rifled in his shot, and Al-Hafiz was beaten for the third time in the match.
However they could not sustain their tempo for long and 10 minutes before the end of regulation time, JDT found their second through Luciano Figueroa who was brought in earlier for Norshahrul. The Argentine finished a pinpoint pass in the Felda box with an acrobatic first-touch to make it 3-2.
The visitors finally found the equaliser in the 88th minute, through Diaz. He dribbled the ball past several defenders to get near the edge of the box, before trying a low shot that could not be saved by Farizal.
Just like last night, the visitors conceded in the dying minutes of the match, again through Ndumba. Just like his first, a long pass down the right that was more hopeful than anything found him, and he saw that Al-Hafiz has come off his line. He attempted an audacious chip over Al-Hafiz, it went in, and Felda have a one-goal advantage to take to Larkin for the second leg.