5 talking points from the Malaysia Cup final

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

With the dust slowly settling, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks at five things we took away from Saturday’s Malaysia Cup final between Johor Darul Ta’zim and Kedah.

It was the biggest night of the year in Malaysian football and the biggest club in the land did not disappoint.

In front of almost 80,000 fans at the Shah Alam Stadium, Johor Darul Ta’zim claimed a 2-0 win over Kedah in Saturday’s showpiece event to win the Malaysia Cup.

Although many had predicted a tight encounter, Harimau Selatan always looked in control from the moment Aidil Zafuan headed them in front after just three minutes.

And, when Gonzalo Cabrera added a second in the 63rd minute, the celebrations in Johor were well and truly underway.

As is the case whenever a season comes to a close, there will be plenty for both these teams to digest and analyse in the days and weeks to come.

But, with the clash still fresh in the memory, FOX Sports Asia looks at five of the main talking points to emerge from Saturday’s historic final.

1) The wait is finally over for JDT

It was the one trophy that had eluded JDT since they emerged as the dominant force in Malaysia in 2014, but that wait is finally over.

It was, by no means, the longest drought ever considering a team like Selangor had to wait a decade before landing a 33rd Malaysia Cup crown back in 2015.

Nonetheless, it was evident that this was the one JDT really wanted this season.

Granted, Harimau Selatan may be the team that everyone – other than their own supporters – loves to hate, but there was a certain degree of romance to them finally completing the collection having previously won the Super League, FA Cup, Charity Shield and even the AFC Cup.

With no more doubts hanging over them on the domestic front, perhaps JDT will now set their sights on bigger things – the AFC Champions League being one of them.

2) Hazwan deserves to be Malaysia’s main man

It may not have been his match-winning double that secured Selangor the title two years ago, and it was his team-mate Cabrera who was officially named as Saturday’s Man of the Match.

However, there was no shortage of onlookers who agreed that Ahmad Hazwan Bakri played an equally crucial role – if not more – against Kedah.

As the focal point in attack, the 26-year-old held up the ball well despite the close attentions of Zac Anderson and Khairul Helmi, and showed good vision as he regularly brought his fellow forwards into play.

The Malaysia national team have long been crying out for their latest main man in attack to fill the void left by the likes of Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who are now in the twilight of their careers.

Hazwan may not yet be as prolific as someone like Safee, but there is more to his game than just finding the back of the net.

Despite his relative youth, he is already the most-experienced forward in the national team setup and, with two crucial 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers against DPR Korea on the horizon, it is time for Malaysia coach Nelo Vingada to build his attack around Hazwan and let him show what he is capable of.

3) A night for Baddrol to forget

Even the most hardcore of JDT fans would have had a tinge of sympathy for Kedah midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar on Saturday.

Despite having his fair share of suitors over the years, Baddrol has remained true to the Red Eagles through thick and thin since his debut in 2005.

His loyalty never wavered even when Kedah were playing in the second tier Premier League and he deserves every bit of credit for helping them back to the top.

For so long, the Malaysia international has been their talisman and he could have been just that once again in the final.

But luck wasn’t on his side as he could only hit the woodwork twice in the second half from good openings, and was the first to make way as coach Nidzam Adzha Yusoff looked to change things up.

Should he have put those chances away? Yes. But was he solely to blame for the defeat? Far from it.

Kedah boast a bevy of big-name forwards and none of them managed to find any sort of rhythm.

Baddrol will be hurting right now but he is the kind of the player with the mentality to bounce back from this disappointment.

One hopes he gets another chance on the big stage soon enough.

4) Kedah could challenge again in 2018

Since returning to the top flight at the start of last season, Kedah have finished inside the top of the Super League in back-to-back campaigns, as well as won the Malaysia Cup (2016) and FA Cup (2017).

Continental competition awaits them in the form of the AFC Cup next year and Nidzam will also benefit from having a full pre-season with his charges, having only taken over the reins midway through this season.

As is the case often with football in Malaysia, and Southeast Asia as a whole, there will be plenty of personnel changes in the coming months.

Star striker Ken Ilso, who netted 25 goals in all competition, has already announced his departure and more are expected to follow.

Still, the Red Eagles have done an excellent job in building a team with a good mixture of experience and youth.

Holding on to seasoned campaigners like Baddrol, Syazwan Zainon and Khairul Helmi will be crucial, but the likes of Ariff Farhan, Amirul Hisyam and Syafiq Ahmad will also be expected to take the next step.

Should Nidzam manage to sign a new striker capable of hitting the back of the net like Ilso did, there should be no reason why Kedah won’t be there or thereabouts again come the end of 2018.

5) What next for JDT?

Like most movie trilogies, one gets the feeling that winning the Malaysia Cup signals the end of this chapter in the history of JDT.

The club have never shied away from the fact that they brought in all their big names in order to reach the top. And they have done just that.

Famous stars like Safiq Rahim and Aidil Zafuan are still at the top of their games but age will eventually catch up on them, which is why the club hierarchy has already hinted at a different approach next season.

The temptation of having a real good go at the Champions League could still require the likes of Safiq, Aidil and S. Kunanlan playing important roles.

Nonetheless, on the domestic front, it will not be surprising to see some younger faces get an opportunity.

JDT have carefully stockpiled some of the country’s brightest prospects, who have been biding their time on the bench and with reserve side Johor Darul Ta’zim II.

2018 could just see Afiq Fazail, Safawi Rasid, Dominic Tan and company become household names.

Photo credit: Johor Darul Ta’zim FC