Kelantan Vs Kedah Match Preview
AKMAL Rizal Ahmad Rakhli owes part of his renaissance with Kelantan to teammate Indra Putra Mahayuddin in a rekindling of a relationship that began eight years ago.
Indra and Akmal, both 29, have formed a unique telepathy over the years while playing for the national team and Selangor, and now the combination is beginning to reap dividends for Kelantan.
The hunger-starved east coast state are on the verge of making their second consecutive Malaysia Cup final when they welcome Kedah to Kota Baru for the semi-final second leg today.
For Kelantan to return to Bukit Jalil, Indra and Akmal will need to do to Kedah what they did to Selangor in the quarter-finals when Indra instinctively hit a cross into the box for a perfectly positioned Akmal to head into goal for the opener.
"Akmal and I have played together for so long that we are very familiar with each other's play," said Indra after Wednesday's 0-0 draw with Kedah in the first leg in Alor Star. "That goal against Selangor was the result of all our years together. Akmal is also much more confident in front of goal and if he can continue scoring, we will make the final for sure."
The duo first came to prominence at the 2002 Asean Tiger Cup when Malaysia reached the semi-finals in Singapore by routing the hosts 4-0 and outplaying Thailand 3-1.
At domestic level, they combined for the first time at Selangor where they reached the Malaysia Cup and FA Cup finals but lost in both.
They were reunited at Kelantan this season and the hunger for success remains just as deep after all these years.
"We are desperate to get to the final again and make up for losing last year. We also want to avenge our exit in the FA Cup to Kedah and don't want history to repeat itself," said Indra in referring to their FA Cup second round meeting which Kedah won on the away goals rule after a 1-1 draw in Kota Baru.
Kelantan will be strengthened by the return of striker Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, who is expected to replace Hairuddin Omar in the first XI but could have a problem in defence with Azizi Matt Rose ruled out and S. Subramaniam doubtful.
Kedah will be without left-back Azmi Muslim, who picked up a hamstring injury, and midfielder Saifulnizam Mustapha (suspended) but centre-back Khairul Helmi Johari and midfielder Sabre Mat Abu return from one-game bans.
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