Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Jakarta Globe Column
Malaysia’s Super League kicked off on Friday night with the traditional season opener between the champions and the Malaysia Cup winners.
This brought together LionsXII, now coached by Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, and Pahang helmed by the experienced Ron Smith.
Hopes are high on the east coast the glory days may be just around the corner following their first Malaysia Cup triumph in 21 years and while the club have been active in the pre season transfer market perhaps the best bit of business they completed was getting Argentine striker Matias Conti to stay another season.
There was also something of a reunion in Kuantan with a former Queens Park Rangers defensive duo renewing acquaintances at the back of the Pahang defense after a six year break. Damion Stewart. Now in his second season with the club, he was partnered by Pakistani international Zesh Rehman, signed from Hong Kong;s Kitchee and in this history books as the first Asdian to play in the English Premier League.
After netting 16 goals in his debut season, Conti marked his birthday with the only goal in front of 36,000 fans to earn Pahang maximum points to start the season.
The rest of the games were played on Saturday night with Selangor defeating T Team 2-0 with new Brazilian striker Paulo Rangel netting twice. Indonesian striker Patrich Wanggai came on as a substitute for T Team as they chased the game but to little effect while former Persebaya 1927 winger Andik Vermansyah was left on the bench by the home team.
Big spenders Johor Darul Takzim also got off to a winning start defeating Perak 2-0 at the Larkin Stadium in Johore Bahru. Amri Yahyah and Luciano Figuero scored in each half to send the large crowd home happy.
Former Indonesian international Hamkah Hamza scored on his debut for PKNS after 18 minutes away to Terengganu but Mamadou Barry equalised minutes later before hitting the winner half way through the second half.
Kelantan, last season’s FA Cup winners, were also made to come from behind at the Sultan Muhammed IV Stadium in Kota Bharu. Sime Darby took the lead within the first 10 minutes through Fadzli Saari and the home team, nicknamed The Red Warriors, had to wait until the hour mark before Mohammed Ghaddar made it 1-1.
Last season, Kelantan earned a reputation for leaving things late and history repeated on Saturday night, Ghaddar netting the winner from the penalty spot with 10 minutes left.
Kelantan are one of several clubs to have a new coach and English man Steve Darby is no stranger to the Malaysian game having previously coached Johor and Perak and he has noticed a sea change.
“Biggest change to me was the size of the crowds and the intensity of the passion, Kelantan, Johor and Pahang all had full stadiums with Ultras....its great for players....real football atmosphere.
“The game is also being marketed far better now by the clubs ie magazines/promotions and the massive use of social media.”
However, while Darby likes much of what he is seeing he did sound some words of caution. “Pitches sadly have not improved...some terrible pitches and you will not get good football on hard bumpy pitches....most teams haven't got proper training facilities and the pitches are council owned and can be hired out by anybody. The league has made fitness Coaches compulsory, the next step is Groundsmen!”
In the other game, ATM overcame newly promoted Sarawak 2-0 with first half goals from the prolific Marlon Alex James and Christie Jayaselan Devasagayam.
In Indonesia, the pre season Inter Island Cup has reached the Big 8 stage with the final eight teams drawn in two groups of four.
The Malang group kicked off on Saturday with Arema, Perseru Seru, Sriwijaya Palembang and Barito Putra Banjarmasin going head to head. The winner of this group will meet the winner of the Solo group (Persib Bandung, Persiram Raja Ampat, Mitra Kukar Kutai Kertanegara and Persik Kediri) in Sidoarjo in the final next Saturday.
There was a surprise in the opening game in Malang with Sriwijaya, winners in 2010 and 2012, getting thumped 4-1 by Barito Putra while Arema narrowly squeezed passed unfancied Perseru 1-0, conquereros of Persipura Jayapura in the group stage, with a penalty from Gustavo Lopez.