A brand new stadium and two new stars on one side, a fresh Asian experience and a hope for a repeat of three years ago on the other.
Johor Darul Ta’zim will open the 2020 Super League at their made-for-football Sultan Ibrahim Stadium in the Charity Shield match against Kedah tonight. Hosts JDT, who have won the title the last two years, will be the favourites but Kedah know they can be party-poopers.
After all, the Red Eagles were the last team to beat JDT to lift the Charity Shield, back in 2017. Then, Kedah beat JDT 5-4 on penalties, after a 1-1 draw.
The visiting FA Cup winners certainly love the feel of the stadium, especially the field, and coach Aidil Sharin and his charges are looking for an excellent start to the new season.
Kedah, who have made some key signings including the purchase of the new strike duo of Kipre Tchetche and Kpah Sherman, know that one plan alone will not work against the reigning Super League champions.
“We are prepared for this kind of game, but we have not decided on our line-up. You will only know an hour before the kick-off because we are assessing each and every player for this game. It is not one plan, but we have another plan when facing JDT,” said the Singaporean during the pre-match press conference at the stadium here yesterday.
“Yes, we lost to them in the Malaysia Cup final (0-3) last year, but we must forget the past. JDT are always strong, and this season, they have only added two players. They have good reserve players too.
“But, we have to look at ourselves first. I want us to improve every day. I do not want them to be on a high only for this game, and not for the other matches. We must be consistent, “ said Sharin who took his team to a fairly successful qualifying round in the Asian Football Confederation Champions League.
They beat Tai Po of Hong Kong 5-1 before losing 1-4 to Seoul FC.
“As a coach, I want to be on top of this one. It will be a big challenge, and I hope everything goes well for us today,” said Sharin.
Meanwhile, his captain Baddrol Bakhtiar said anything can happen in the 90 minutes, but he was hoping lady luck would be on their side.
Bakhtia was wary of JDT’s new signing Kosovo-born naturalised Malaysian Liridon (Krasniqi),one of JDT’s two new signings. The other is national defender Matthew Davies.
“People are saying it is me versus Liridon (Krasniqi), but I must say, every single player in that team are strong. So we have to be focused throughout the game.”
JDT’s coach Benjamin Mora, meanwhile, said he was aware of the threat of Sherman and Tchetche, but reminded everyone that he has the best striker in the country.
“I do not know if they are top strikers. We have Diogo (Santo), he is the best one. They may be in the equation, but we have Diogo,” said the confident Mora.
“Sherman showed in PKNS that he was a dominant player while Kipre always complicated things for us when he was in Terengganu. Luckily, we have seen more win than defeats against them.
“I respect Kedah. If not for JDT, Kedah have a significant probability of doing more in the league, but we are here. We want what they want too, which is success.
“In today’s game, the midfield and substitution battle will be crucial.”
For JDT skipper Hariss Harun, the Charity Shield will be a new game, but most importantly, he was looking at three points to kickstart their league campaign.
“It is our responsibility to do our best in front of our fans. The aim is three points and also gift the people with a trophy.
“Kedah have always made things difficult for us, and we expect the same today. We are ready for the challenge. We have missed high-intensity matches, and it is time for us to start the season well.”
What will it be tonight as a new season begins in a new stadium? JDT’s third title or Kedah’s repeat victory?