The Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) juggernaut is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. In fact, JDT’s 3-1 Malaysia Cup final victory over Terengganu FC at Bukit Jalil on Friday night (8 December) – the Southern Tigers’ fourth since 2017 - has set new standards in Malaysian football.
At this moment in time, no teams in Malaysia can be mentioned in the same breath as JDT. Kedah, treble winners on two consecutive seasons in 2007 and 2008, reached the rarefied heights without winning the season-opening Charity Shield.
Pahang’s Dream Team of 1992 that boasted of Fandi Ahmad, Zainal Abidin Hassan, Dollah Salleh and Alan Davidson won four Cups – the Malaysia Cup, the league, the Charity Shield and the Fairplay Cup - but their FA Cup campaign ended in the semi-finals.
The irresistible force of Southern Tigers, however, swept the four major silverware in Malaysian football for the second consecutive season. A team built in the mould of its owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, JDT kicked off the season beating Terengganu 2-0 in the Charity Shield, which doubled up as the opening league tie.
It was JDT’s sixth Charity Shield victory on the trot, setting the tone for them to win the FA Cup at the expense of Kuala Lumpur City, before handing Terengganu FC another defeat at the National Stadium on Friday.
The 10th Malaysia Super League title, already in the bag thanks to an unbeaten record with a 3-3 draw with Kedah as the only blemish, will be officially celebrated as they host Penang on Saturday.
Poor refereeing and pitch marred final
JDT’s win was the upside but there were two black dots surrounding the final played before a crowd of 80,550 at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium – referee S. Logeswaran and the deplorable pitch condition.
An apologetic Stadium Board claimed they did not have sufficient time to restore the pitch after the Coldplay concert held on 22 November, despite being host to the Malaysia Cup final for the 16th time since the stadium was inaugurated in July 1998.
While the pitch issue needs to be laid to rest forever for the National Stadium to regain its stature as the focal point, the hub of the National Sports Complex and above all the perfect home for the national team Harimau Malaya, the standard of Malaysian refereeing remains under the microscope after an insipid display by Logeswaran.
Player-turned-pundits – Datuk Zainal Abidin Hassan, Safee Sali and Razman Roslan – on TV during half-time agreed that the penalty awarded to JDT in the sixth minute, which was converted by Bergson da Silva for his 11th goal in the competition, was a soft one as Fernando Forestieri fell due to challenge by Azam Azmi Murad.
The three pundits were equally surprised when Logeswaran was prepared to wave play on until the assistant referee pointed out that Ivan Mamut was fouled by Jordi Amat in the penalty box. Mamut picked himself up to convert a well-taken penalty in the 21st minute.
There was however no doubting substitute defender Feroz Baharuddin’s header off a Heberty Fernandes corner in the 73rd minute for JDT’s second goal. And any hopes for Terengganu to level the score were dashed when Logeswaran awarded JDT another penalty as Arif Aiman Mohd Hanapi, the outstanding flanker and Man of the Match, was felled by Shahrul Nizam Ros Hasni.
Arif cooly slotted the ball home, sending the JDT camp into a frenzy and ensuring the club’s entrance into the annals of Malaysian football.
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