BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
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It was a struggle but in the end, Selangor managed to get the winning goal as they beat T-Team 2-1 in the first leg of the TM Malaysia Cup semi-final match played at Shah Alam Stadium on Saturday night. Ugo Ukah's late winner helped settle the tie after Patrick Cruz and Hazwan Bakri have both scored in the first half.
Selangor's coach, K. Gunalan reverted to preferred line-up after that defeat to Perak in the Super League, with the likes of Khairul Azhan, Azmi Muslim and R. Gopinathan restored to the starting XI. As for T-Team's coach Rahmad Darmawan, he had to do without the service of Dilshod Sharofetdinov but was able to field the several returnees including Asrol Ibrahim and Nor Hakim.
The home side were the first to threatened but Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh failed to test Ilham Razali in T-Team's goal despite having two good chances presented to him before the five-minute-mark. Andik Vermansah was the next to have a go, latching on to Hazwan's pass but found his volley well saved by Ilham.
Despite the early pressure, it was the away side that opened the scoring. The Titans was awarded a penalty when Bunyamin Omar brought Nor Hakim down inside the penalty box and there was no hesitation on the part of the referee what the decision will be. Cruz stepped up to send Khairul Azhan the wrong way to put T-Team 0-1 up in the 21st minute.
T-Team drew confidence from that goal and went on to displayed some very pleasing on-the-eye kind of football. No long punts up field for the striker to chase down, every pass calculated, every run made with a purpose. It was a joy to see a team so comfortable to move the ball on the ground.
That was at least until midway through the first half when Nazmi Faiz had to go off due to a face injury and Adam Nor Azlin was sent on in his stead. Adam provided the blueprint on how Selangor can get themselves back into the game. Instead of standing off T-Team and admiring their passing, Adam went about pressuring the opposition and started snapping at their heels.
However, the match was ticking towards half with no sign of Selangor able to create much openings. The signs of frustration started to kick in for Selangor and was evidenced by Hazwan's nasty challenge which left Asrol lying in a heap on the ground. The forward was shown a yellow card for his folly but soon showed was he was capable of.
In the 45th minute, Hazwan was on hand to receive a T-Team clearance from a Selangor corner kick. He beats one player before unleashing an unstoppable curling shot to the top right corner of Ilham's goal. The 22-year-old keeper could do nothing to shot Hazwan's shot from making it 1-1.
The equaliser gave Selangor a new breath of life and they came out in the second half with more desire and motivation. Adam continued to be a livewire in the middle of the park but now the likes of Andik and Gopinathan has also joined in to maintain a high intensity style of pressing.
Selangor started to make inroads on T-Team's defence with Hazwan twice having his shots from inside the penalty box blocked by last-ditch defending. Even Ukah had an opportunity to score in the 64th minute but Maiga Youssouf was on hand to block.
T-Team were struggling to keep possesion at this point with neither Asrol nor Makan Konate being able to dominate the midfield area that was being owned by Adam. Cruz was left increasingly frustrated up front with his team mates' inability to provide him any form of support.
From another corner kick in the 80th minute, Selangor finally make their domination count. Ukah managed to get his head on the ball when the initial corner kick was swung in. However, his header came off a T-Team player but rebounded kindly back to his path. The Nigerian gleefully accepted the second invitation and slammed home the rebound to make it 2-1 to Selangor.
The Red Giants even had one more opportunity at the end to take a more comfortable two goals lead to Kuala Terengganu but the combination of Gopinathan and Adam could only see the latter's shot going just wide of the goal.
Just like the other TM Malaysia Cup semi-final, this one between Selangor and T-Team is finely poised at 2-1 to the former. With the second leg to be played on 15th October 2016, there will be time for both coaches to see where it went right or wrong for their respective teams and improve on that.
Selangor: Khairul Azhan, Azmi Muslim, Rizal Fahmi, Ugo Ukah, Bunyamin Omar (Razman Roslan 86’), Andik Vermansah, Nazmi Faiz (Adam Nor Azlin 25’), S. Veenod, R. Gopinathan, Hazwan Bakri (Hadi Yahya 90’), Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh
T-Team: Ilham Razali, Arif Fadzilah, Maiga Youssouf, Hasbullah Awang, Hassan Basri, Makan Konate, Asrol Ibrahim, Noh Hakim (Ramzul Sufian 83’), Zulhanizam Shafine (Marzuki Yusof 72’), Safawi Rasid, Patrick Cruz