BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
After a slightly chaotic 2015 campaign that saw several matches postponed due to the haze that affected the whole region, the final match of the 2015 Malaysia Cup was played on Saturday night.
The Red Giants may have been buoyed by the fact that they were playing at home, the Shah Alam Stadium, which was the designated final match venue, but it was Kedah whose fans outnumbered the other side's at the stadium, despite the 400km distance a majority of them had to travel from their state to get to Shah Alam.
Selangor head coach, Mehmet Durakovic who may be taking charge of Selangor for the last time, opted to start with Hazwan Bakri, Guilherme de Paula and Hadi Yaha up front, Andik Vermansyah, Leandro dos Santos and Nazmi Faiz in midfield, Azrif Nasrulhaq, skipper Shahrom Kalam, Raimi Nor and Robert Cornthwaite in defence, with semi-finals hero Norazlan Razali in between the sticks.
Kedah head coach Tan Cheng Hoe, who was back on the bench for the night after taking a brief leave from his coaching course in China to be with his team, fielded Firdaus Muhamad as the goalkeeper, Bang Seung-Hwan, Shafizan Hashim, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Chidi Edeh, skipper Khairul Helmi, Rizal Ghazali, Syazwan Tajuddin, Syazwan Zainon, Liridon Krasniqi, and Sandro da Silva.
Selangor signaled their intent from the get go, winning a corner kick almost from the kick-off. It paid off dividently, when they found the first goal as early as the fourth minute. A swift counterattack found de Paula with the ball, with only two defenders to beat. He deftly launched a diagonal pass to Hazwan on his right, and Hazwan kept the pass with a finely-weighted first touch. Left only with the onrushing Firdaus to beat, he chipped the ball just over the goalkeeper to make it 1-0.
After the goal that was brought on by their pressuring, the Red Giants eased up, content to try and contain Kedah's sporadic attacks.
However their tactic almost backfired when in the 24th minute when Krasniqi attempted a sensational curler near the far post from the left. The try had height, but went agonisingly wide, to the disappointment of the Kedah fans.
In the 32nd minute, de Paula fed Andik a through pass, but a last-ditched tackle by Helmi just as Andik was lining up the shot kept Kedah in the game.
Just before halftime, a moment's lapse in Selangor defenders' concentration almost led to them conceding the equaliser. They allowed Rizal to creep near the box with the ball almost unchallenged, and he used the opportunity to attempt a shot from the edge. Luckily Norazlan was still alert despite having very little to do throughout the first half, and tipped the shot over the bar.
The first half finished 1-0.
In the beginning of the second half, the same script played out. Two minutes in, another counterattack found de Paula with the ball again, and he passed it to Hazwan on the left in the Kedah box. Hazwan finished it with deadly accuracy, with a low shot into the far corner.
The Red Eagles were not able to challenge Selangor effectively, partly due to the inability to their much-touted foreign duo Chidi and Sandro to make an impact in the match, so in the 58th minute Cheng Hoe made the first substitution of the match, bringing Farhan Roslan on for Syazwan Tajuddin.
In the 64th minute, Kedah came close to finding their first goal, when Farhan managed to head a short Krasniqi cross. However, he could not head the cross at the right angle, and the header when over the bar.
Selangor's decision to slow down the tempo almost backfired, when three minutes later Edeh managed to find da Silva with a lobbed through pass behind the Selangor backline, with only the goalkeeper to beat in the box. But Norazlan again repeated his heroics, rushing forward to block da Silva's harried shot and keep his team's two-goal lead.
In the 79th minute, substitute S. Veenod had the chance to kill the match when he was released by de Paula with a fine pass. But he had not adapted to the poor pitch well, had to slow his sprint down, resuliting in him being contained by a defender, and he could only release a harmless shot at the goalkeeper.
Veenod again was through five minutes later, and this time he was able to kill the match, although not by scoring. His attempt was again blocked by Firdaus, but Firdaus had used his hand outside of his box. Firdaus was promptly ejected by the referee Nazmi Nasaruddin from the match, and Shazwan Abdullah had to take his place.
Kedah were not to mount any serious challenge after the sending off, and the match ended 2-0 to the Red Giants, the first time in 10 years they managed to capture the cup, and their first silverware in five years.