The east coast teams are fast emerging as a new force in Malaysian football.
Kelantan proved it last year when the Red Warriors made history by winning the Malaysia Cup for the first time since 1921 (Malaya Cup).
This year, it’s Kelantan’s bitter rivals and neighbours Terengganu who are hogging the limelight.
The Turtles are on a roll – they won the FA Cup, finished runners-up in the Super League (behind Kelantan) and now will battle it out with Negri Sembilan in the Malaysia Cup final at the Shah Alam Stadium today.
Terengganu, who last won the Cup in 2001, will start as the favourites after their Herculean efforts in the knockout stages.
Coach Irfan Bakti’s men eliminated defending champions Kelantan 5-3 on aggregate in the quarter-final before humbling 32-time winners Selangor 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals.
“I guess this is going to be our year,” said Irfan.
On paper, everything seems to point to Irfan’s men lifting the Cup.
They’ve got class acts all over the pitch – from playmakers Joseph Kallang Tie and Ismail Faruqi to hotshots Abdul Manaf Mamat and Abdul Hadi Yahya; the speedy Mohd Ashaari Shamsuddin, Reeshafiq Alwi; and influential skipper and defender Mohd Marzuki Yusof, the sole member from the 2001 Cup-winning squad who beat Perak 2-1.
Coach Mohd Azraai Khor Abdullah’s Negri, meanwhile, are a unique side. The Deer seem to thrive in the Malaysia Cup – this is their third straight final.
This is in contrast to their poor showing in the Super League (8th position) and FA Cup (knocked out 4-2 on penalty kicks by Kuala Lumpur in the second round).
“I don’t have to say much about this Negri team … our record speaks for itself. After all, we are in our third straight final,” said Mohd Azraai, who had guided Kedah to win the treble (Malaysia Cup, FA Cup, Super League) back-to-back in 2007 and 2008.
Negri will also have all their best men available, including the injured Abdul Razak twins of Mohd Aidil Zafuan (centreback) and Mohd Zaquan Adha (striker).
But it is their hired hand from Terengganu – Hairuddin Omar – who is causing all the buzz.
The 32-year-old former international, fondly known as “Hai O”, holds the key in Negri’s strikeforce.
Terengganu would be well advised to keep a tight leash on this deadly finisher, who has a knack of scoring with headers in Cup finals.
The Setiu-born striker has done twice – in the 2009 and 2010 finals.
In 2009, he was with Negri and scored with a header in their 3-1 win over Kelantan.
The following year, he hopped over to Kelantan and guided the Red Warriors to the Cup when he again scored with a header in their 2-1 win over Negri in the final.
“I am just a hired hand who plays for any team who want my services. I will be playing against my home team but that is not important to me. I am a professional and I will do what I do best,” said Hairuddin.
So, can Negri’s hired-hand from Setiu dash his home team’s dream or will Terengganu show that they are the new footballing powerhouse?
Either way, get set for a cracking showdown.