Southeast Asia Malaysia

Olusegun’s Penalty Saves Red Giants from Defeat as Pahang All But Confirm JDT’s Seventh Straight League Title

Selangor FA had Nigerian striker Ifedayo Olusegun to thank after his last-gasp penalty salvaged a point for the Red Giants in their 3-3 draw with Liga Super Malaysia surprise packages UiTM FC on Saturday night’s Selangor Derby. Selangor barely survived their Matchweek 9 encounter with the university side, initially going up comfortably 2-0 before a horror show in the second half saw them trailing 3-2 to the Lion Troops. However, Olusegun’s last-gap spot kick saved Selangor’s blushes at the UiTM Stadium in Shah Alam.

Saturday’s match was Michael Feichtenbeiner’s debut as Selangor’s caretaker head coach, with the German doing triple duty with his other roles as Selangor’s technical director and head coach of Selangor’s second team in the Liga Premier Malaysia following last week’s sacking of B. Sathianathan. Facing off against his countryman Frank Bernhardt in the UiTM dugout, Michael’s tenure as caretaker went off on a flyer after Olusegun gave Selangor the lead in the 25th minute. The Nigerian slammed home a close-ranged shot after being given a lobbed through ball by Brazilian teammate Sandro Da Silva, with the shot catching UiTM goalkeeper Azfar Arif off-guard.

Selangor then doubled their advantage in the stroke of half-time, after Sandro fired a cannonball of a shot from outside the UiTM penalty box that utterly defeated Azfar. 2-0 Selangor and that was the scoreline going into half-time.

However, two minutes after the restart, UiTM struck back and halved the deficit in the 48th minute through Gustavo Dos Santos, who poked the ball into Khairulazhan Khalid’s goal with a cheeky semi-overhead kick. Gustavo then drew the scoreline level for UiTM in the 58th minute, taking advantage of a pass from Lebanon international Rabih Ataya to smash a close-ranged finish that pegged Selangor back. Before the Red Giants could regain their bearings, UiTM flipped the tie to their favor in the 62nd minute. Rabih, on loan at UiTM from reigning AFC Cup champions Al-Ahed in his native Lebanon, rifled in a long-ranged shot that Khairulazhan was unable to stop in time. 3-2 UiTM and the university side suddenly found themselves commanding the advantage.

UiTM have been exceeding expectations this season, having being promoted from the Liga Premier to replace PKNS FC, who were absorbed into the Selangor setup to become the Red Giants’ second team Selangor II. With a lack of notable names and only loanees Rabih and Filipino Mark Hartmann the only foreign players with any notable international pedigree, many had predicted UiTM to go straight back down into the Liga Premier. However, like Sheffield United in the 2019-20 Premier League season, Bernhardt rallied his men and gave the Liga Super powers a run for their money, and before the university side knew it they are in contention for a spot in the Liga Super top half.

UiTM held onto their lead for much of the second half, only to be undone in the final minutes of the game after captain Victor Nirennold inadvertently touched the ball with his hand deep within his team’s penalty box, giving the referee no choice but to award Selangor a penalty. Olusegun dispatched the penalty with aplomb, his shot easily beating Azfar – a famous win for UiTM denied and a point salvaged for Selangor.

Meanwhile, at the Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan, hosts Pahang FA came from behind to beat visiting Kedah FA 2-1, a result that all but confirmed league leaders Johor Darul Ta’zim’s seventh straight Liga Super title. The Red Eagles had initially taken the lead through Kipre Tchetche in the 15th minute, however the Tok Gajah roared back and struck home two goals courtesy of Adam Reed in the 40th minute and Nik Sharif Haseefy in the 46th minute, sealing all three points for Dollah Salleh’s men.

Kedah’s defeat meant that 2nd placed Perak FA are six points off JDT in the Liga Super summit with only two games to go in the season. Mathematically should JDT lose their next two games and Perak win theirs the Bos Gaurus would equal their points tally with the Southern Tigers, however since JDT dismantled Perak 7-0 and Selangor 6-1 in previous matchweeks, Benjamin Mora’s charges found themselves having a very healthy goal difference over their pursuers. Combined with JDT having the superior head-to-head record over Perak, all that the league leaders need to do to confirm their league title is to avoid defeat in their next league match against relegation-battling Sabah FA at the Sultan Ibrahim Stadium on October 2nd.

One thing’s for certain though, JDT are assured of a spot in the 2021 AFC Champions League group stages, leaving a mad dash between seven teams for that one ticket to the 2021 AFC Cup that came with being league runners-up. Perak, Kedah, UiTM, Terengganu FC, Pahang, Melaka United and Selangor all have a shot of finishing as Liga Super silver-medalists with only two games to go in the season and with Melaka traveling to Sabah this Sunday in Matchweek 9’s final game, the Mousedeers could stake a good claim to their continental aspirations.

As for Sabah, a win against Melaka would help their relegation battle woes very much. With PDRM FA already set for an immediate return to the Liga Premier, Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto’s Sabah would have to pull all stops to avoid joining the Cops in dropping down to the second tier.

Speaking about the Liga Premier, both Penang FA and Kuala Lumpur FA have confirmed their return to the Malaysian top-flight, with Penang beating UKM FC 2-1 on Saturday and Kuala Lumpur coming out on top on a roller-coaster 5-4 thriller over Selangor II on Friday. Penang’s return would surely delight Kedah fans as the Northern Region Derby would make its return to the top flight after a 4-year absence. However, Kuala Lumpur’s return would entice even bigger fireworks as they get to contest the Klang Valley Derby with Selangor once again after being away for a season. The two teams will concentrate their efforts in the last two matches of the 2020 Liga Premier season for the competition’s title.