Every hero needs a villain, for without it there would be no story. Not quite as dramatic when it comes to football but within that context, a competition can only be seen as exciting and engaging when there’s two worthy opponents fighting tooth and nail to better each other.
The growth of the English Premier League sat on the back of the intense rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal for almost a decade between 1997 and 2005 before the new-found riches of Chelsea and Manchester City came into the picture. The Sir Alex Ferguson v Arsene Wenger and Roy Keane v Patrick Vieira battles were keenly anticipated every season.
This current period of Malaysian football can be defined similarly where the fixtures between JDT and Pahang are the ones that fans look forward to because it sees the resumption of the rivalry between the two most successful teams of this era.
Since their rebranding in 2013, JDT have taken the Malaysian football scene by storm. They have taken a stranglehold of the Super League titles, claiming triumphant between 2014 and 2019. Add to that two Malaysia Cup wins and one FA Cup wins - an amazing nine trophies in their collection in a short period of time.
Coming up closest to them is Pahang, who themselves have picked up four winner medals during the same period. But with JDT so dominant in the league, those successes have come in the cups where the Elephants have won the Malaysia Cup and FA Cup twice, each.
It is a competitive rivalry that is also felt in the stands. From the overcrowding scenes at Darul Makmur Stadium in 2013 when the match between the two had to be suspended to the subsequent crowd troubles that followed whenever they faced each other.
A huge distasteful tifo was unfurled at the start of the 2015 season when JDT welcomed Pahang at the Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in the season opener that further increased the animosity between the two sets of fans. Even in the 2019 season, JDT were fined after their fans lit fireworks before and after the match against Pahang.
There have been grand matches between the two teams over the years starting with the 2014 Malaysia Cup final at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium. Pahang took the lead through Dickson Nwakaeme but JDT quickly overturned proceedings via Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Luciano Figueroa. Nwakaeme grabbed the all-important equaliser to send the match in a penalty shoot-out which favoured Pahang.
Two years later it was JDT’s turn to show superiority. The all-conquering side which finished the Super League season unbeaten that season, gave Pahang a footballing lesson in Kuantan. The pair of Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero dovetailed brilliantly as the Southern Tigers ran away 6-0 victorious.
In 2017, Pahang visited JDT as league leaders with a four points gap to their rivals but the match turned the season on its head. A brace from Hazwan Bakri and one from Safiq Rahim cancelled out goals from Matheus Alves to give JDT a 3-2 win. A win that gave JDT the momentum to eventually overtake Pahang and cruise to another MSL title.
At the same venue a year later, Pahang caused a major upset in the FA Cup quarter final. After a scoreless draw in the first leg in Kuantan, JDT were seen as the clear favourites to reach the semi-final. But Pahang and Patrick Cruz in particular had other ideas. Cruz scored an impressive hattrick as Nor Azam Azih produced a virtuoso performance in midfield for Pahang. Pahang would go on to lift the FA Cup that year.
It will only serve to benefit the league and the standard of the players as these two giants of the domestic competition in Malaysia continue to try to outdo each other. A rivalry that Malaysian football needs in order to grow, a rivalry that could be here to stay for some time.
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