BY ERIC SAMUEL AND FARIK ZOLKEPLI
PETALING JAYA: Never in the 90-year history of Malaysian football has there been an east coast final between Kelantan and Terengganu.
Hence, the 22nd edition of the FA Cup holds a special significance because this is the first major showdown between two east coast teams. And it is not just the Cup to play for but pride and honour.
Yes, they are neighbours but there is no love lost between the two bitter rivals when they try to outdo each other for the Cup at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil tonight (8.45pm).
Kelantan are gunning for their first-ever FA Cup victory since the inaugural competition kicked off in 1990 while Terengganu, winners in 2000, are looking just as hungry for success.
The stage is set for a classic battle with the two teams who are pretty even in strength and determination to win it. And there is a strong possibility the outcome could be decided in a penalty shootout.
The record shows that four out of the last five finals have gone to penalty kicks.
And Kelantan were one of the heartbroken sides.
They lost 1-4 to Selangor in the penalty shootout in 2009. Kelantan were barely 10 minutes away from victory before Selangor drew level at 1-1.
Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat does not want a repeat agony of the 2009 final.
He hopes the Red Warriors will pull through in 90 minutes.
“I was on the bench as the third goalkeeper in 2009. It was a painful experience to go down on penalty kicks.
“I don’t want to see it happen again although Kelantan and Terengganu are of equal strength,” said Khairul yesterday.
Kelantan coach Datuk M. Karathu feels the final would be evenly contested.
“Both teams have strong finishers and it will be entertaining for the fans but I don’t foresee a shootout to decide the winners,” said Karathu, who will be hoping to land a second winners’ medal after guiding Perak to the inaugural title in 1990.
Terengganu coach Irfan Bakti said their 0-3 defeat to Kelantan on Monday in the Super League clash, should not be used as a yardstick.
“We did not have five of our national players in that match because they just came back from an international assignment.
“They needed the rest and I chose not to gamble on fielding them. You will see the full team in action tomorrow (today),” said Irfan.
Abdul Hadi Yahaya, Terengganu’s leading hitman with 15 goals, believes they will be able to overcome Kelantan with their full team this time.
“Mohd Ashaari (Shamsuddin) was out on suspension on Monday and is now back for the final.
“That is good news because both Abdul Manaf (Mamat) and I complement well while Ashaari supports from the midfield,” said Abdul Hadi.
The expectations are also high from both sets of vociferous supporters.
The Terengganu state government has dangled a lucrative holiday package to London and Europe if they win the FA Cup and the Super League title this season.
Kelantan are sure to better the stakes.
All in all a classic encounter is on the cards tonight.