Mehmet Durakovic chases another Malaysia Cup as Perak face JDT
The semifinals of the Malaysia Cup will provide a welcome distraction for football fans after the national team succumbed to a desperately poor 2-0 loss to Hong Kong in AFC Asian Cup qualifying last Tuesday.
Seventeen players from that 24-man Malaysia squad will be involved in Sunday's first leg, with Perak facing Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) and Felda United doing battle with Kedah.
Here are three things to watch out for:
1. Durakovic's love affair with Malaysia Cup
As a player, former Australia international defender Mehmet Durakovic won three consecutive Malaysia Cup titles with Selangor from 1995 to 1997.
As a coach, he earned further adulation by guiding Selangor to a much-coveted 33rd Cup title in 2015. But just days after a 2-0 victory over Kedah in the final, Durakvoic was sacked to open the way for former teammate Zainal Abidin Hassan to take over as head coach.
After sitting out the 2016 season, he found himself back in club management last March after Perak made the surprise decision to release the late Karl Heinz-Weigang.
The ex-Melbourne Victory manager has already weaved his magic in the competition this year by guiding Perak to top spot in their group.
The Bos Gaurus then pulled off a stunning 4-0 win over FA Cup finalists Pahang in their second-leg quarterfinal to progress 5-3 on aggregate to the last four.
Having already beaten JDT in the league in February, Perak will be looking for history to repeat to give them a healthy advantage heading into the second leg at Larkin Stadium.
If there is anyone who can mastermind an upset, Durakovic is the man to do it, aided by his in-form striker Gilmar Jose, who has netted eight goals in the competition.
2. JDT mounting serious hunt for elusive trophy
The Malaysia Cup, however, has eluded them since the Crown Prince of Johor (TMJ) took charge. The closest JDT came to capturing the trophy was when they lost on penalties to 10-man Pahang in 2014.
In recent seasons, the Southern Tigers never paid much attention to the tournament, which does not offer a slot in the regional AFC Cup. But having missed out on the FA Cup and AFC Cup this year, the cash-rich club are taking the competition more seriously by fielding their best players.
Ulisses Morais' men won four of six group matches before trouncing Melaka United 5-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
Against Perak, Mohammed Ghaddar, Gonzalo Cabrera and Gabriel Guerra will be keen to add their combined seven goals in the tournament.
On Sunday night, the anticipation will be high for JDT to triumph in Ipoh, which has proved to be an unhappy hunting ground for them in recent times.
3. Felda vs. Kedah thriller on the cards
Judging by attacking prowess of both sides, this first-leg tie could produce an abundance of goals at Jengka, three hours south from Kedah's Alor Setar base.
The Fighters have scored 16 times in the competition after their swashbuckling 5-4 aggregate victory over giant killers PKNP FC.
For this crucial test, Felda's ageing defenders Dino Djulbic and Shukor Adan, with a combined age of 72, must be on top of their games to stop the fluid firepower of Ken Ilso, Liridon Krasniqi and Sandro.
Ilso, already on five goals in the competition, is aiming to bring another piece of silverware to the FA Cup champions before he bids them farewell at the end of the season.
Kedah's 21 goals are a firm reminder that B. Satiananthan's men must ensure a tight lid ahead of the return leg on Oct. 21.
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.