Saturday, 7 January 2012

Kelantan favourites to beat Negeri Sembilan in Charity Shield match

One team let their stars go while the other welcomed their former stalwarts back with open arms. The Charity Shield match between Kelantan and Negri Sembilan tonight. the curtain-raiser to the new M-League season, will tell who got it right.

The Negri Sembilan FA (NSFA) did not try to discourage their top players from joining big-spending Premier League side Armed Forces while the Kelantan FA (Kafa) rolled out the red carpet for their former stars and coach Peter Butler, who had walked out on the Red Warriors.

Fans will get a sneak preview of what is in store for the 2012 Super League when the two giants clash for the Charity Shield at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil.

Negri coach Mohd Azraai Khor Abdullah is unperturbed by the big name departures following their Malaysia Cup–winning success last season.

“We are not going to cry over those who left us. Their absence will not weaken Negri Sembilan. We still have the core players in the team and capable replacements from the state back-up squad,” said Mohd Azraai.

Among the players who left the Deer are twins Mohd Aidil Zafuan and Mohd Zaquan Adha Abdul Razak, goalkeeper Mohd Farisal Harun, defender Mohd Irwan Fadli Idrus and Malaysia Cup final hero Hairuddin Omar.

But Negri remain confident in the team they have and are bent on starting the season on the right footing.

“It will be a perfect start if we beat Kelantan as Negri have not won the Charity Shield before,” said Azraai.

The Deer’s Cameroon striker Jean-Emmanuel Effa Owona will be the player to watch following the departure of Hairuddin and Mohd Zaquan. Besides Owona, Negri can also rely on the likes of S. Kunalan and Shahurain Abu Samah to play pivotal roles in attack together with inspirational skipper Mohd Shukor Adan.

Kelantan, in a surprise move, re-opened their door to Indra Putra Mahayuddin, Mohd Norfarhan Mohd and Aziz Mat Rose, who had controversially ditched them for Terengganu T-Team last season.

Kafa initially refused to let the three go but were eventually forced to release them to T-Team.

Indra, Mohd Norfahan and Azizi played an inspiring role for Kelantan under former coach B. Sathianathan when they won the Malaysia Cup for the first time in 2010. Last year, Kelantan lifted their maiden Charity Shield after beating Selangor 2-0. The Red Warriors went on to lift the Super League title but bowed out to Terengganu in both the Malaysia Cup (quarter-finals) and FA Cup (final).

Kelantan also had no qualms about welcoming back Englishman Butler after he had left them in the lurch during the pre-season to join Myanmar clubside Yangon United in 2009. It is obvious the east coast side have opted to rely on experienced hands for the new season.

Kelantan are again the team to watch. They have a formidable set of players led by skipper Mohd Badhri Radzi and two-time MPV of the Year Norshahrul Idlan Talaha. They also have a pillar of strength in national goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat.

Negri certainly look like the underdogs tonight.

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