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Beware, Lions XII

Pahang coach Dollah Salleh believes they have better players than Sundram's boys. -TNP
David Lee

Tue, Sep 18, 2012
The New Paper

Ex-Malaysia star Dollah Salleh holding up the Sultan of Selangor's Cup at the press conference for Sultan of Selangor's Cup, an annual friendly football match between the S-League all-stars and M-League selection.

This time last year, Malaysian legends Dollah Salleh and Zainal Abidin Hassan were wondering what was happening to their beloved Pahang FA.

Finishing 13th out of 14 clubs in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) was a bitter pill to swallow.

But, for two of Malaysia's most lethal strikers during the '90s, it must have been even harder to accept that Tok Gajah had been relegated with the worst scoring record in the league with just 19 goals in 26 games.

A year on, those fears have been replaced by cheers as Pahang FA march into the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Cup. What's more, the goals are starting to flow again.

Pahang coach Dollah could even tell The New Paper that he was confident of his team's chances against LionsXII when the sides meet in Kuantan on Friday.

The 48-year-old said in a telephone interview: "We are really looking forward to the match. "Individually, I think some of our players could have better skill and quality than the LionsXII players.

"But what we lack is the teamwork that LionsXII have."

The statistics certainly back him up.

This latest achievement of progressing to the Malaysia Cup quarter-finals comes on the back of a hard-earned promotion back to the MSL after seeing off Sarawak and Kedah in the play-offs, following their second-placed finish in the second division.

In just six Malaysia Cup group matches, they scored a whopping 17 goals against Selangor, Sarawak and T-Team to emerge as the tournament's most prolific team so far.

That is more than four times the paltry four goals the LionsXII have mustered in their campaign. But their defence is a worry, as the 13 goals they conceded are the second-worst record in the tournament, just one fewer than the eliminated T-Team.

Dollah said: "We have an international striker in Azamuddin Akil (four goals in Malaysia Cup) and experienced foreign players in Russian midfielder Boris Kochin (one) and Brazilian forward Maycon (two).

"Some of them are very good technically, but we can still learn to play as a team to shore up our defence."

And of course, in Dollah and assistant manager Zainal, Pahang have two stalwarts who have the know-how of leading Pahang to the league and cup double in 1992, in a Dream Team that also featured Fandi Ahmad and the late Borhan Abu Samah.

Dollah scored 76 goals in 125 games for Pahang from 1991 to 1996, while Zainal notched 68 goals in 152 games across two stints from 1983 to 1984 and from 1991 to 1996.

Zainal, who like Dollah had played in Singapore with Balestier United in 1988, also helped Pahang win their first Malaysia Cup in 1983, as a 19-year-old.

The 49-year-old Zainal had said earlier: "We used to have big names and even LionsXII coach V Sundramoorthy was our teammate, along with former Nottingham Forest defender Alan Davidson and former Thailand captain Piyapong Pue-on.

"But our current team are made up mainly of young local talents and experienced seniors such as Azamuddin who are also from Pahang. This helps to forge a strong team spirit."

As for a tactical showdown against former on-pitch adversaries and off-the-pitch pals, both Dollah and Zainal are relishing crossing paths again with Sundram and Kadir Yahaya after both teams met in a friendly during the fasting month and played to a 2-2 draw in Kuantan.

Dollah said: "It will definitely be different from when we were battling on the pitch.

"We had some great times when we won the Cup in 1992, but losing 4-0 to Singapore in the 1994 Malaysia Cup final was not a good feeling.

"We are all coaches now 18 years on, and it will be an interesting encounter.

"So far, we have had about 25,000 fans at the Darulmakmur Stadium when we played Sarawak and Selangor.

"Perhaps when the LionsXII come over for a Malaysia Cup game, it will help bring 40,000 and fill the entire stadium."

Pahang's Malaysia Cup Results

Beat T-Team 3-2 (H)

Drew with Selangor 2-2 (A)

Beat Sarawak 6-0 (H)

Beat Sarawak 3-2 (A)

Lost to Selangor 4-1 (H)

Lost to T-Team 3-2 (A)

davidlee@sph.com.sg

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