Southeast Asia Malaysia

Ghani’s Heroic Performance Kept Kedah Alive in AFC Cup Hunt

A superb performance from Kedah FA goalkeeper Azri Ghani ensured that the Red Eagles are still well and truly alive in the race for the 2020 Liga Super Malaysia silver medal. Hosting Melaka United at the KLFA Stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Monday night for their Matchweek 10 game, Kedah managed to edge out the visitors 1-0 thanks to a first half goal from Singapore international Shakir Hamzah.

Aidil Shahrin Sahak’s Kedah knew that a win against Melaka would keep them alive in the race for a spot in next year’s AFC Cup and the Red Eagles duly did so in their second “home away from home” match. With Alor Setar still off-limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kedah looked very much at home in Kuala Lumpur and they carved a number of early chances through captain Baddrol Bakhtiar, Kpah Sherman, and Amin Nazari, however it wasn’t until the 19th minute that the Red Eagles broke the deadlock.

Kipre Tchetche executed a beautifully-taken corner that was met by a powerful header from Shakir, with the ball smashing its way into the Melaka goal and leaving the Mousedeers’ goalkeeper Norazlan Razali utterly stunned. 1-0 for Kedah and with their opponents scoring the opening goal, Melaka were jolted into life.

In the 25th minute, Melaka earned themselves a chance in drawing the scoreline level through Uche Agba, however the Nigerian’s attempt was blocked by Kedah’s 21-year old goalkeeper Ghani. With injuries to main goalkeeper Ifwat Akmal and 2nd choice keeper Shahril Sa’ari, Ghani was given the nod to protect Kedah’s goal by Aidil and the youngster paid his head coach’s trust in him excellently.

Ghani once again came to Kedah’s rescue at the end of the first half, nullifying a 42nd minute free-kick from Safiq Rahim before denying a header from Syamim Yahya right afterwards, preserving Kedah’s slender lead as the match enters half-time.

The second half saw Melaka asserting their control over the game, with Kedah having dropped their pace after their opener. Agba attempted to have a crack again at the Kedah goal in the 49th minute, only for his shot to balloon over Ghani’s goal. Baddrol nearly doubled Kedah’s lead in the 54th minute having received an excellent through ball from Sherman, however the Kedah captain’s attempt was blocked by Norazlan, while in the 63rd minute Syamim had his volley miss the Kedah goal completely.

Melaka created a number of great chances in the remainder of the second half, one of them a 77th minute attempt from Haiti international Sony Norde, however both Melaka’s poor finishing and Ghani’s prowess between the sticks denied the Mousedeers their equalizer. In the end Kedah managed to successfully defend their slender lead and ended the match as 1-0 winners, with the three points propelling the Red Eagles into 2nd on the Liga Super table, with Ghani’s heroics playing a huge part in Kedah’s victory on Monday night.

Kedah’s win meant the door has been closed for Terengganu FC in their bid for the Liga Super silver medal, with the race for runners-up now boiling down to both Kedah and Perak FA. On the final matchweek of the 2020 Liga Super season, both Kedah and Perak will face off against one another at the Perak Stadium in Ipoh, with the match being played out on Sunday. Being the current occupants of 2nd place, Kedah will have the slight advantage in this encounter – they would only need to avoid defeat away at Perak to ensure themselves 2nd place and a ticket to the 2021 AFC Cup.