BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Playing in their second leg FA cup quarter-final tie against Kuala Lumpur (KL) without their suspended experienced players Amri Yahyah, Willian Pacheco and Halim Zainal, Selangor meekly surrendered their comfortable 3-0 first leg lead before needing to settle the tie with a nervy 8-7 penalty shootout win.
With the three's suspensions and a number of injuries, head coach Nazliazmi Nasir had to rely on his younger players to face their Klang Valley rivals. In the starting line up, Selangor fielded four players aged 23 and below, excluding Indonesian duo Evan Dimas Darmono and Ilham Armaiyn. However, things quickly went south for the Red Giants, as their relative lack of experience and poor defending saw them conceding three goals to KL, and they were simply lucky not to have conceded more.
When asked by Goal in the post-match press conference, Nazliazmi disagreed that Amri, Pacheco and Halim's absence contributed to the near collapse.
"In football you cannot rely on specific players. I've always encouraged and motivated those I fielded tonight, and I give them opportunities to win me over in training.
"We gave KL too much space in the first half, which they took advantage of by creating chances and varying their movements. The first two goals happened because our midfield was not compact when defending, and their third was a slap in our faces.
"But I told my men to maintain their focus as it wasn't over yet, and thankfully the defence bucked up afterwards. They improved their discipline and played better then, especially in the extra time," he remarked.
Nazliazmi too denied that his young players' lack of confidence led to the poor performance in the match, and chose to single three of them out for praise.
"Amirul (centre back Amirul Ashraf Ariffin), who made his senior team debut tonight, played really well although he had to play through a cramp. He showed good commanding and communication.
"Sarkunan (midfielder Sarkunan Krishnansamy) did relatively well, although he lacks the physique when compared to KL's Paulo [Josue]. I believe in his abilities and workrate, and he did what I asked of him.
"[Forward] Sean Selvaraj made an impact in attack when he was brought on. Although he didn't have a perfect game, he is a work in progress.
Sean Selvaraj. Photo by Zulhilmi Zainal
"They and the rest of the younger players have the quality, and it may not happen in the nearest future, but in two or three years' time I'm confident that they will be the Red Giants' key players," said the former youth coach.
But Nazliazmi, whose current post at Selangor is his first ever senior team coaching job, also praised the Hawks for nearly pulling off the impossible, describing the match as a good lesson for himself.
"Congratulations to Kuala Lumpur for putting up a good fight. I had expected a tough time in the second leg, but nothing this intense.
"I am new at this level and tonight's match is a good experience for me. I didn't expect it will go to the penalties and I'm simply shocked by KL's spirit. They kept pressing my players. Tonight is a good lesson for the team and for me as a coach; a three-goal lead and playing at home still do not guarantee you a win," explained Nazliazmi.
The goals in the match that was held at the Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium were scored by Zaquan Adha Abdul Radzak (15'), Paulo Josue (45+2') and Syazwan Andik Ishak (54').
Selangor vs Kuala Lumpur match highlights