5 players to watch in this weekend’s Malaysia Cup final

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Photo Credit: Asiana.my

This may come across as a no-brainer, but the FA Cup final earlier this year was one-way traffic in terms of atmosphere. But with two state teams in the Malaysia Cup final this year, you know everyone is in for an absolute treat. But that’s not the only reason this will be intense. Both sides faced each other in the final last year as well, so there’s a special sense of rivalry this time around. Selangor made history last year, by winning their 33rd Malaysia Cup. But Kedah have arguably been the better side in Malaysia this year – precisely why experts are tipping them as favourites for this weekend’s bout. Either way, with so much at stake – including pride – you can be sure that the atmosphere will be nothing short of feisty.  And big atmospheres are always perfect for big players, as listed below.

SHAHROM KALAM 

Shahrom is quickly building a reputation for being one of the finest centre-backs in Malaysia, but there’s more to him that meets the eye. His importance on the pitch goes without saying really, but Shahrom’s character is precisely what they’ll depend on for games of this magnitude. Over the years, the Malaysian international has always been an inspirational leader, even during the most difficult of times. If you’ve been to Selangor matches, you’d notice how Shahrom actively acknowledges the fans in every game, and makes an effort to speak with them, when they incur an unexpected result. He’s never too shy to accept responsibility and that’s a perfect testament to the sort of character he projects on and off the pitch. Cup finals are never straightforward – in fact, it’s very rarely about sheer brilliance, alone. Shahrom is designed for occassions like this, and you can surely expect him to be roaring behind his teammates throughout the 90 minutes, on Sunday.

LIRIDON KRASNIQI 

Off the pitch, he looks like an easy-going chap with an affinity for music, but Krasniqi is nothing short of a beast, as soon as he steps onto the pitch. What most people see are his tricks and antics on the pitch. But what most people don’t realize is how accurate Krasniqi is, with his positioning and movement off the ball. As soon as you give him space, he’s able to turn nothing into something – as you would have seen throughout this year. He is uniquely shaped to do well against sides like Selangor as well. Selangor’s midfielders are relatively small in size, when compared to Krasniqi – precisely why the 24 year-old did particularly well in both MSL games against the Red Giants this year. His swagger is also designed for occassions like this, so expect him to be in party mode when the Malaysia Cup final kicks off on Sunday.

SHANE SMELTZ

11 goals in 19 appearances. That’s how incredible Shane Smeltz has been since he joined the Red Eagles in July. When Kedah announced his arrival earlier this year, skeptics popped out every angle, questioning his age, fitness, motivation and even ability. The last bit was nonsensical, considering Shane has featured for New Zealand in the FIFA World Cup, and even scored that famous goal against Italy. But the other three concerns were valid. However, the veteran striker didn’t take long to prove his worth, as he formed a formidable partnership with Thiago Augusto, and scored goals after goals to inspire Kedah to a third-placed finish in the MSL, besides going all the way in the Malaysia Cup. The ex-Sydney FC man has already publicly voiced his desire to lift the prestigious Malaysia Cup final, and judging by his form, you wouldn’t bet against him potentially bagging a goal or two on Sunday, would you?

HAZWAN BAKRI

Rumours are actively linking him with a move to Johor DT (I mean, he did score a cracker against them last week!), but this weekend, Hazwan Bakri will be fully focused on repeating what he inflicted on Kedah in the Malaysia Cup final, last year. His two goals didn’t only spur Selangor to their 33rd title, but it also restored hope into the Selangor faithful. Unfortunately, he’s had to endure an injury-ravaged season and it they’re not even sure if he’ll be there next year. But what they do know is he’ll be playing this Sunday, and that he’s more than capable of being a match winner. Kedah will probably dominate the tempo, but with Hazwan Bakri upfront, the Red Giants will be more than happy to attack on the break.

BADDROL BAKTHIAR

The next few months are going to be huge for Baddrol – he’s been drafted in to replace Safiq Rahim’s playmaker role within the Malaysian national set-up, for the AFF Suzuki Cup. But before that, he’s got the Malaysia Cup final to ponder about. Penang’s Matias Cordoba recently claimed that Baddrol Bakthiar has been the best Malaysian player in 2016. You may disagree, but it isn’t too hard to see where Cordoba is coming from as well. Alongside Krasniqi, Baddrol has developed into a key fulcrum in Kedah’s midfield, and has incredible vision with the ball. His array of long-range passes are nothing short of stupendous as well – if you’ve consistently watched him over the pass few years, you’d agree. It’s been a huge year for 28 year-old, and the pressure is set to increase in November. But Baddrol will be doing himself a huge favour, should he turn on the style this weekend.