Kelantan eye strong start to season

Defending Malaysia Super League champions Kelantan will be looking to get the 2013 campaign off to a winning start on Wednesday when they entertain PKNS FC.

ATM vs Kelantan: Badhri Radzi, Bruno Martelotto

By ESPNSTAR.com staff

Last season was one to remember for the Red Warriors as not only cruised to the league title, both also picked up the Malaysia Cup and the FA Cup to become only the second side to complete the domestic treble after Kedah.

But despite their dominant displays in 2012, many are expecting them to face a much stiffer test this year in their bid to retain their title given how the reinforcements brought in by the big-spending likes of Darul Takzim and ATM, a fact not lost on Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak.

"The number one favourites are Johor [Darul Takzim]," he told ESPNSTAR.com. "If you look at them on paper, they have the whole Malaysia national team plus two very good foreign imports.

"ATM are also a good and hardworking side, while Selangor have signed many players and they are historically a strong team.

"LIONSXII will also be thereabouts and I believe Terengganu are still a good side. They haven't lost too many players from last season and I think they can still challenge."

Nonetheless, the Croatian tactician is confident his side can make the most of home advantage to get their season up and running on Wednesday.

"Getting the season off to a good start is always important. Plus, we'll be playing at home where we are always favourites.

"We never lose at home and, like before, we must win on Wednesday."

LIONSXII, the side that came closest to Hodak's charges in the league last term, get their campaign underway at the Tuanku Abdul Rahman Stadium against ATM.

Although some believe the Singaporean outfit have what it takes to repeat their runners-up finish, coach V. Sundramoorthy insists his main focus will be on developing his young side - many of whom are likely to represent Singapore at the year-end Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

"Exposing the boys to tough matches in the MSL [Malaysia Super League] and giving them playing time will be key to their development," he said.

"It's important that we are competitive week in week out.

"Then, when we move on to the SEA Games, the players will be physically and mentally ready for the challenges. Hopefully we can do well then."

On Tuesday, Darul Takzim failed to deliver on the pre-season hype in their season opener as they threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to newly-promoted Pahang.

A routine win for Fandi Ahmad's big-spending side had looked to be on the cards as they found themselves 2-0 up after 26 minutes thanks to strikes from Safiq Rahim and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who both benefitted from excellent deliveries from ex-Spain international Dani Guiza.

However, Fauzi Roslan pulled one back for Tok Gajah in the 49th minute, before adding his second in the 72nd minute to make it 2-2 after a neat layoff from R. Gopinathan.

Seven minutes from time, Pahang's memorable comeback was complete as they grabbed all three points when R. Surendran pounced on a cross to fire home the winner from close range.

S. Kunanlan came back to haunt old side Negri Sembilan on his debut for Selangor as he scored the only goal of the game to hand his new employers a 1-0 win at the Shah Alam Stadium.

In a game that Negri could easily have won given the number of chances they carved out, Kunanlan netted what proved to be the winner in the 68th minute when he reacted quickest to a hopeful lob into the box and got just enough on his strike to send the ball into the bottom corner.

Over at the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium, an own-goal from FELDA United captain Kaironnisam Sahabudin cost his side all three points as they had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Terengganu.

The visitors had taken the lead nine minutes into the second half when new signing Mohammed Ghaddar went on a penetrating run right at the heart of the opposition defence, before clinically firing his shot into the bottom corner.

Still, it was not to be for the Settlers as four minutes later, Kaironnisam, in a bid to prevent Ashaari Shamsuddin from meeting an Ismail Faruqi Asha'ri corner, could only head the ball backwards into the back of his own net.

Tuesday's final game saw Perak record a 1-0 victory over T-Team courtesy of a 93rd-minute own-goal from Nuraliff Zainal Abidin.

Wednesday's Malaysia Super League Fixtures

Kelantan vs PKNS FC

ATM vs LIONSXII

Tuesday's Malaysia Super League Results

Terengganu 1-1 FELDA United

Pahang 3-2 Darul Takzim

Perak 1-0 T-Team

Selangor 1-0 Negri Sembilan



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