Selangor, Kedah loom large in best Malaysia Cup finals in history
The 2017 Malaysia Cup kicks off this week, with FA Cup winners Kedah looking to defend their title in the wake of a determined charge from Malaysia Super League (MSL) champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).
Kedah won the 2016 final on penalties over Selangor, who have a record 33 titles after triumphing against the same opposition the year before.
With the Malaysia Cup going into its 91st edition, ESPN FC lists the five best finals from the last decade:
2008 -- Kedah conquer Selangor to win second treble
Selangor had lost 3-2 to Kedah in the 2008 FA Cup final, so there was a chance for sweet revenge when the teams met again in the Malaysia Cup final a few months later.
In front of 60,000 fans at Bukit Jalil Stadium, Selangor took the lead through Frank Seator, but league champions Kedah were not to be cowed. They stormed back after goals from Marlon Alex James, Nelson Sam Martin and Fadly Baharom for another 3-2 victory.
Kedah's triumph marked an unprecedented double treble feat that no Malaysian outfit has been able to emulate. It was also the perfect parting gift for Marlon and Nelson, who left Azraai Khor's side after the ban on foreign signings was imposed the following year.
2015 -- Selangor long-overdue 33rd title
The Red Giants would not qualify for another final after that heartbreaking 2008 loss for another seven years. Again, the animosity between the Klang Valley giants and Kedah, who had just won promotion to the MSL hung in the air.
This time, Selangor were ready to give their diehard fans a long overdue success at their Shah Alam den. The stage was set for a man-of-the-match performance, and up stepped Ahmad Hazwan Bakri.
After giving Selangor an early lead, the young striker benefited another assist from Guilherme De Paula to seal a 2-0 win and record-extending 33rd Malaysia Cup title. Victory saw Mehmet Durakovic become the first foreigner to win the Malaysia Cup as a player and a coach -- but the Australian was unceremoniously dumped before the following season.
2014 -- Ten-man Pahang deny JDT
This will be remembered as one of the most nerve-jangling matches in recent memory, between the two best sides of that year.
JDT, under the TMJ revolution, had just clinched their maiden MSL title and boasted in-form strikers in Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Luciano Figueroa. Pahang also possessed some of the best imports in the country, and already clinched the Charity Shield and FA Cup.
The game headed for extra time after Dickson Nwakaeme had equalised for the Elephants, a minute after seeing his teammate Saiful Nizam Miswan sent off for punching an opponent. Another 30 minutes failed to provide a winner before the final went to penalties. Norshahrul Idlan Talaha saw his spot-kick saved by Khairul Azhan before Hafiz Kamal sent Pahang fans into the delirium by firing home for a 4-3 shootout victory, giving the 10-man Elephants an unlikely victory.
2012 -- Kelantan kings under Hodak
Under Croatia's Bojan Hodak, Kelantan were the kingpins of Malaysian football, and 2012 proved to be their best year. After safely tucking away the MSL and FA Cup titles, the Red Warriors marched into the final against Armed Forces (ATM), who'd they faced in the group stages.
After Kelantan edged ATM in a seven-goal thriller in their second group game, the signs were pointing to another high-scoring affair. And the sides did not disappoint, trading three goals in six minutes to make it 2-2 after 90 minutes.
But Hodak's side would prevail over B. Satianathan's ATM after an extra-time goal by evergreen Indra Putra Mahayuddin. Both teams have regressed since then, with Kelantan facing money troubles, and ATM at the bottom of the second tier.
2016 - Kedah's revenge under Tan Cheng Hoe
One of the reasons Kedah fell to Selangor in 2015 may have been due to the absence of Tan, who had only arrived back in Malaysia the evening before the final after completing the FIFA Pro License course in China.
That exposure would bring out the best in his coaching abilities the following season. So it was no surprise when Kedah made the final in 2016 against familiar foes in Selangor, who had lost January's Charity Shield to JDT. In pouring rain, they prevailed on penalties after a 1-1 draw and went on to re-establish their reputation as one of the giants of Malaysian football.
Tan has since gone on to rejoin the Malaysian national setup as an assistant boss to Portugal's Nelo Vingada.
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.