Perak FA were not expected to provide any shocks prior to their clash against Johor Darul Takzim. Eventually they did not. But they did send out a message, that the passion and commitment within the team is burning with fire. Two-men down against the star-studded Southern Tigers, many teams would have crumbled under pressure. But Azraai Khor's men defended with their lives, losing only 0-1 at the end of the day.
Key to their inspiring performance was Brazilian defender Rafael Novais, who was rock-solid alongside Shahrom Kalam at the heart of their defence. And the former Bangkok Glass defender was visibly proud of his teammates.
"We played our hearts out and I am proud of my team," he told Goal.com Malaysia in an exclusive interview.
"We knew they have a great team, but regardless of that, we played as a team and probably did not deserve to lose. If the referee did not make things hard for us, I think we could have even won the game."
Nicknamed the 'Hulk' of Perak, Rafael admitted that Johor Darul Takzim are a solid side with plenty of quality, although he was quick to add that Perak are equally strong to be challenging for top honours.
"Johor Darul Takzim are a really good team. But I think a lot of people expected too much of them from the game on Friday. I think it will take some time for them to form some understanding between the players.
"Nonetheless, I think we have enough quality in our team to win titles. We believe that we can become a force this year.
"My time here with the Seladangs has been nothing short of sensational. Every single day, I'm learning something new and adapting to the technical surrounding of the team. I am certainly very happy to be a part of this team and hopefully we can achieve something big this year."
Perak FA will next take on Felda United at the Royal Navy Stadium in Lumut next Tuesday.