Hodak: Darul Takzim are title favourites

Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak believes big-spending Darul Takzim are favourites to win the Malaysia Super League this season.

Kelantan coach: Bojan Hodak

By Gabriel Tan

Kelantan get their campaign underway on Wednesday with a home game against PKNS FC, where they will be looking to get their title defence off to a winning start.

2012 was a year to remember for Hodak and his charges and they became only the second team in Malaysian football to claim the domestic treble, winning the league, Malaysia Cup and FA Cup.

However, they are expected to face much sterner competition this season with the likes of Darul Takzim and ATM, who both have not been afraid to splash the cash in recent years, joining a list of challengers that already includes Selangor, LIONSXII and Terengganu.

But Hodak firmly believes it is Fandi Ahmad's charges - who were known as Johor FC last year - that will pose the biggest threat, although he admitted there were other sides capable of ruining his team's bid to retain the title.

"The number one favourites this season 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.

"But the names don't play a part once you're on the pitch - they will also need to work hard. It [being favourites] might actually also put pressure on them because everyone will be out to prove something against them."

 "Apart from Johor [Darul Takzim], 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.

"It will be tough for us this year. Last year we won three trophies and we're aware everyone will try to beat us this season.

"But that's part of football and it's up to us to show we're still a good team."

The Red Warriors will have to do without two key players from their treble-winning run after Malaysia international Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and winger Nurul Azwan Roya both left to join Darul Takzim.

In their place, former T-Team star duo Zairo Anuar Zalani and Faiz Subri have arrived at the Sultan Mohammad IV Stadium, along with ex-Perak anchorman K. Nanthakumar and Haris Safwan, who was part of the Johor FC squad last term.

Although he expects his new additions to play their part, Hodak is also optimistic a number of young players can step up and establish themselves as part of the next generation at Kelantan.

"We've lost five to six players since last season - most of whom are attacking players," he revealed. "Maybe this means we have to change our style of play but overall we still have lots of good players.

"Zairo is a good player. He and Nantha[kumar] will provide a lot of depth in our midfield. We will have a lot of matches to play, especially with the AFC Cup, and it's important we have enough players to cope with these commitments.

"Unfortunately, Faiz came to us injured - He had a problem from last season when he was at T-Team and it wasn't properly treated.  We have also brought in Haris Safwan, who has plenty of experience.

"But hopefully we'll also see some of the young guys develop and play a role for the first team. Kelantan have a long history of grooming and nurturing young players and it's important to keep that tradition."

And while he admitted his side will face plenty of competition for silverware in 2013, he believes they still retain one big advantage - their impressive when playing at home - something he wants to make the most of, starting on Wednesday against the Red Ants.

"This season there are only 12 clubs in the league," Hodak explained. "With only 22 games now, every goal and point is very important.

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

"We have a great record at home and we never lose. Like we have done in the past, we must win on Wednesday."

Following their game against PKNS, Kelantan will travel to the Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium on Saturday to take on T-Team, who are currently coached by Hodak's predecessor Peter Butler.


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