This is the final match MALAYSIA FA CUP.
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Kedah’s Liridon Krasniqi will be one of the most dangerous players in Saturday’s Malaysia FA Cup final against Pahang, but the creative genius attributes his silky skills to the tough days working as a labourer.
The Kosovar playmaker, who has scored three goals in the competition, is expected to be given heavy attention by the Pahang midfield when the teams face off at Shah Alam Stadium in front of 80,000 fans.
But it was only five years ago that Liridon was laying down bricks and doing hard labour in Germany after a two-year FIFA ban.
“I signed for Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic when I was 17, and it was tough because you are alone in a different country, a new environment and do not speak the language,” Liridon told ESPN FC.
“I was scared and I did not have any money to eat sometimes, let alone send my family any cash. One day I just left without even telling the management, because I also had financial issues with them.
HOW THEY FARED IN PREVIOUS FA CUP FINALS
2006 – Pahang 0 Perlis 0 (4-2 on penalties)
2007 – Kedah 0 Perlis 0 (4-2 on penalties)
2008 – Kedah 3 Selangor 2
2010 – Negeri Sembilan 1 Kedah 1 (5-4 on penalties)
2014 – Pahang 1 Felda United 0
Kedah snatched the Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup from Johor Darul Ta’zim’s (JDT) grasp in January but some may argue the curtain raiser trophy has little significance besides marking the start of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) season.
The Red Eagles however, will enter the final hoping to claim another of JDT’s 2016 trophies.
Up against them is a side who defeated the defending champions and is eager to make amends for a poor 2016.
Pahang battled against relegation and barely put up a fight in Cup competitions last season, but they have spent big in 2017 as Dollah Salleh returned to take charge of the dugout.
Dollah had left Pahang a winner in 2013 after lifting the Malaysia Cup and by the looks of it, the Elephants are back in contention for trophies once more. Pahang are also second in the MSL standings at mid-season.
HEAD TO HEAD
Kedah 4 Pahang 1 (MSL 2017)
Kedah 0 Pahang 3 (MSL 2016)
Pahang 1 Kedah 1 (MSL 2016)
Pahang 5 Kedah 0 (Malaysia Cup 2014)
Kedah 3 Pahang 1 (Malaysia Cup 2014)
Dollah, having won it all in the domestic scene, will have an advantage over Kedah’s caretaker coach Nidzam Adzha Yusoff.
Nidzam took charge of the squad at the end of April after Tan Cheng Hoe quit to join Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) as Tigers assistant coach.
The winners on Saturday will play in the AFC Cup next year.
Both teams are expected to spare little in their quest to lift the FA Cup, so expect the coaches to field their strongest squad.
Dollah may even hand new signing Yamil Romero of Argentina a debut after registering the forward in place of Bright Dike, who had struggled to get into the starting line-up.
Kedah, who have not made changes to their squad in the mid-season transfer window yet, could miss Australian Zachary Anderson. The centre-back missed the FA Cup’s semi-final second leg against Terengganu.
Key battle: Liridon Krasniqi vs Ahmad Syamim Yahya
The Red Eagles play an attractive brand of football but Kosovan midfielder is the heartbeat of this Kedah team.
He pulls the strings and Pahang’s key to the match could depend on how tight they mark Krasniqi, who is arguably among the best imports in the MSL.
The task of guarding Krasniqi could fall to Ahmad Syamim Yahya, who has done admirably well in the engine room after being converted from a winger by Dollah since his move from Felda this season.
The Coaches: Dollah Salleh vs Nidzam Adzha Yusoff
Both players were rivals on the pitch with a fair amount of success as players, but Dollah can claim to have made it in coaching – domestically at least – while Nidzam is still learning the ropes.
With the exception of his stint with Perlis in 2016, Dollah has won trophies everywhere else – Selangor, MPPJ, Pahang and PDRM.
Nidzam is Kedah caretaker coach for the third time but he has never been a permanent head coach of any senior team.
Having served as Tan’s assistant for the last two seasons and the likes of Wan Jamak Hassan, K. Devan and Irfan Bakti Abu Salim in the past, Nidzam may feel it is time to stand on his own.
Fact & Figures
Pahang won the trophy in 2014 while Kedah won it back-to-back times in 2007 and 2008.
Both teams have only been unsuccessful once in the final. Kedah lost the 2010 final to Negeri Sembilan while Sabah defeat Pahang 3-1 in the 1995 finale.
Having won the 2016 Malaysia Cup and the 2017 Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup, Kedah will have all three domestic trophies in their hand should they emerge victorious in Shah Alam.
Dollah Salleh never won the Cup as a player but lifted it with Selangor in 2005. Nidzam was with Kedah when they won the FA Cup in 1996.
Kedah have a better head-to-head record over the past 10 years, winning 14 of 20 encounters, but Pahang got two wins and a draw in the last four times they met.
Pahang 2 Kedah 2: Both teams have goals in them and it could take the penalty shootout to determine the winners