Mohammed Ghaddar aims to complete Malaysia Cup final dream with JDT
The 2017 Malaysia Cup final promises to be a full-throttle affair between defending champions Kedah and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), who have won the last four league titles.
With 80,000 fans at Shah Alam Stadium, and more than seven million watching on television around the country, the match represents a chance for JDT to finally claim the one trophy that has so far eluded them.
Here are five things to look out for on Saturday night:
1. Ghaddar aims for more Malaysia Cup glory
Mohammed Ghaddar will complete a dream season since making the mid-year switch to JDT from struggling Kelantan.
Ghaddar has justified his record transfer fee as he has made the most of the world-class facilities in Johor Bahru.
He's stayed true to form, with his relentless scoring for his new club. With both JDT and Kelantan, he contributed 23 league goals to win the Golden Boot, with five in this competition.
After triumphing with Kelantan at the same stadium five years ago, the fleet-footed forward will be on the hunt for another Malaysia Cup conquest.
He won't be short on service for that mission, with Gonzalo Cabrera, Gabriel Guerra, and Natxo Insa operating just behind him to supply ample opportunities.
2. JDT, Kedah players try to impress Vingada
Fourteen players from the final will join the Malaysia squad bound for the AFC Asian Cup qualifying double header against North Korea in Thailand on Nov. 10 and Nov. 13.
With Malaysia head coach Nelo Vingada yet to decide on his starting 11, this match will provide a platform for national candidates to impress. JDT players face stiff competition within their own ranks, with 12 of them selected for the national squad.
For Afiq Fazail, Izham Tarmizi, Junior Eldstal, S. Kunanlan and Fazly Mazlan, a strong performance would put them in contention for a start, with positions up for grabs after Malaysia's miserable qualifying campaign so far.
3. Kedah's big-match experience
While JDT have become league conquerors, Kedah are the Cup maestros, as they aim for their fourth trophy in just 12 months.
This year, they have already lifted the Charity Shield and FA Cup, having won the 2016 Malaysia Cup.
This will be their fourth Cup final in less than two years at Shah Alam Stadium. It means that Kedah know all about big-game pressure, which could prove the difference against a JDT team who are expected to fulfill the ambition of their Crown Prince owner.
Kedah have done well to hold their own in pressure-cooker moments, and won't be overawed by the superstars from Johor.
If the Red Eagles are able to defend their title, they will have every reason to be confident of making another strong run at next year's AFC Cup.
4. Referees must get things right
Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has kept the names of officials for the final under wraps after a controversial decision plagued JDT's semifinal victory over Perak.
It came in the 3-0 semifinal second-leg victory over Perak on Oct. 21. Zaquan Adha's goal was ruled offside by the assistant referee when Perak trailed 2-1 on aggregate.
But FAM referees' chairman and former World Cup official Subkhiddin Mohd Salleh explained that the goal should have stood because JDT right-back S. Kunanlan had the last touch.
With the adrenaline flowing thorugh the players' veins on Saturday night, the game could turn into a full-blooded affair. The onus is on the men in black to make the right calls under pressure, without fear or favouritism.
5. Colourful fans worthy of the spectacle
Apart from the banners, flags and scarves that will be on display at Shah Alam Stadium, the performances of rival supporters will add colour and resonance to the occasion.
The Boys of Straits, from JDT, are well known for their rendition of the Poznan. It emulates Polish club Lech Poznan, and was later adopted by English giants Manchester City, where fans link arms, with their backs to the field, and jump in unison.
Kedah supporters are also known to serenade their players with the Viking clap, made famous by Iceland at Euro 2016. And with Manchester United legend Eric Cantona throwing his support behind the northern state side, the "Forza Kedah" chant will boom louder around Shah Alm.
The fans will the driving force of this much-anticipated clash, and it is hoped that they make their presence felt without any unsavoury incidents on Saturday night.
Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.