It was deja vu for Perak team as it succumbed to a second 0-1 defeat to Johor Darul Takzim at the Larkin Stadium on Friday, January 25. This time around though, it was in the FA Cup, as the Seladangs were effectively booted out in the first round by a clinical Johor side.
A few weeks before that, Perak impressed many with a resounding performance despite their 0-1 defeat to Johor in the Malaysian Super League. They had two men sent off in the first half, leaving them with nine players for the second half, in which they defended like heroes to only go down by a solitary goal. Aidil Zafuan netted the winning goal with a terrific header and he came to haunt the Perakeans again three weeks later.
Perak were still missing most of their big guns, with skipper Shahrul Nizam Mustapha and midfielder S. Chanturu still out injured. But the match kicked off on a rather predictable note as big-spending Johor seized initiative with former Spanish international Dani Guiza playing upfront. However, it was Perak who had the first real chance of the game as Hadi Yahya laid a defence-splitting pass for ex-Anderson School player Norhakim Isa. Unfortunately, the youngster scuffed his attempt and a good chance went astray.
Knowing that set-pieces could be their best attempt to surprise the Johor goal, Rafael Novais had a customary long range free-kick from 35 yards. But his spectacular shot was stopped well by the Johor keeper. In fact, the Seladangs meticulously edged into the game and were the better side, as the match approached half time.
After the break, the Southern Tigers came out firing on all cylinders and they got an immediate response. Safiq Rahim stepped up to curl in a corner kick and Aidil Zafuan was placed perfectly to head home the winning goal which, ultimately, saw Perak out of the FA Cup. It was a disappointing end to what was a brilliant performance from the youthful Seladangs.
Credit has to be given to Azraai Khor Abdullah, who has instilled faith in his younger troops. The fact that Perak were missing so many key players through injury and yet managed to put a good fight against Johor Darul Takzim was commendable. Norhakim Isa was arguably the stand-out player of the night, as he rattled the opposition midfield, which had national team players like Safiq Rahim and Nurul Azwan Roya in the midst.
The quality of play shown by Perak’s youthful team signals an encouraging future for the side. In fact, Perak’s successful President Cup squad in 2012 was one of the major motivations in convincing Azraai to take charge of the Seladangs. The ex-Kedah coach is well known for his passion for working with young talents and the abundance of it in Perak augurs well for the team.
Nevertheless, with the FA Cup out of sight, this could very well be a blessing in disguise for the boys. The injured players are recovering and should be in the team very soon. Perak will have a full strength squad to continue the quest for the league’s title.