Romel Morales scores against JDT







3rd April 2021 

SABAH’s footballing fortunes seemed to be on the rise. After languishing in the Malaysia Premier league for seven seasons the Rhinos won promotion back to the top flight in 2019 and, with Indonesia’s Yulianto Dwi Kurniawan installed at the helm Sabah – just about – managed to retain their hard-won position with a 10th place finish in the Covid-shortened 2020 season and had started 2021.  



After recharging batteries following a much-welcome two-week break a serious injury to Mauritanian striker Dominic da Sylva dominated Kuala Lumpur City thoughts after what would be a goalless draw at Cheras. What would turn out to be a season-ending injury was devastating for da Sylva, and it would have a major impact on Kuala Lumpur City’s season.  


In the match itself, Indra Putra in for Paulo Josue was the one change from the XI who started at Melaka, but KL struggled against a decent Sabah side.  Indonesian Saddil Ramdani was at his elusive best for Sabah and Kuala Lumpur City were twice saved by the crossbar. At the other end, Hadin Azman went close and Paulo Josue hit the post with a right-footed effort, but with the attack blunted after da Sylva’s injury, this wasn’t Kuala Lumpur City at their best. 


Kuala Lumpur City relieved with the point, but long-term concerns surround the loss of their much-vaunted attacking spearhead. 




7th April 2021 

Petaling Jaya City had made the brave and financially sound decision of going with an “all local” squad for their second season in the top flight. Under former Selangor Coach P Maniam, PJ City had made light of the supposed weakness in the squad and had made a really strong start to the campaign with just one defeat in 6. Many pundits who had tipped PJ City for relegation (I plead guilty) were being quickly forced to revise their opinion. 



Paulo Josue was called back into the starting XI as Coach Hodak went for minimal disruption to a side who were clearly still learning how best to play alongside each other. Defensively things were unchanged despite the rare runaround the back-4 had received from Sabah’s Saddil Ramdani.  


On a glue-like field (since, thankfully, re-turfed) playing a passing game wasn’t really an option and the teams battled a war of attrition in the first half. The second half was compelling viewing. PJ City took the lead when Irfan Zakaria turned a cross into his own goal. The City Boys response was instantaneous as the returning Josue guided home a beauty from the edge of the penalty area. Buoyant, KL went for the kill and Hadin Azman scored his first goal of the campaign to turn the score line around. 


Barely two minutes after Hadin’s goal, a second yellow card in the match for the dependable Nik Shahrul meant that any thoughts of chasing an insurance third girl were put out of Kuala Lumpur City’s mind. A gritty hard-earned Kuala Lumpur City win seemed certain until Gurusamy fed Kogileswaran Raj deep into injury time, and the Malaysian International thrillingly fired into the corner.  


A draw that, again, felt like a defeat. A first sending off of the season and the concession of another late goal being a clear indication that there was still work to be done on “managing” games by Bojan’s charges. 





10th. April 2021 

Daniel Sang Ting is one of those players who rarely hogs a headline. 28-year old Ting plays as defence-minded full back, has a style of play that is effective rather than spectacular and rarely gets into attacking positions. Having not won International recognition, the 6-foot tall defender hasn’t received the attention foisted upon the likes of Brendan Gan, Matt Davies, Sam Somerville of Darren Lok who were part of the same generation of “naturalized” players playing professional football in Malaysia. Non-the-less, Daniel Ting is one of the first names on Bojan Hodak’s team sheet every week. 


The Chester, England, born Ting was part of the much-vaunted Youth Academy at Crewe Alexandra. But after being released Danny – whose father is a proud Sarawakian – played for several English Clubs in the Northern Premier League before he was introduced to the possibility of playing in Malaysia as a “naturalized” player. Signing with Negeri Sembilan before joining up with JDT II, Danny then enjoyed a strong season at PKNS before signing for Kuala Lumpur City at the start of this season.  



And Daniel Ting would go on to create a rare headline against Sri Pahang by scoring what would prove to the winning goal – smashed home from a yard out after Giancarlo Gallifuoco’s header had been saved. Ting was up for a corner having been selected as part of Kuala Lumpur City’s five- man defence that had seen its first enforced change of the season as the suspended Nik Shahrul was replaced by the experienced former Terengganu defender, Kamal Azizi.  


In the continued absence of Dominic da Sylva, Romel Morales had shouldered the responsibilities as the central attacking role with Paulo Josue, Hadin Azman and the recalled Indra Putra playing off the Colombian. Josue was on target for the second straight game with Ting’s goal proving all important as Herold Goulon headed a last-minute consolation for a strangely soporific Sri Pahang. 


So, no da Sylva, a rare headline-grabbing moment for Danny Ting, an end to a 3-match winless run and a first top flight League victory for Kuala Lumpur City over Pahang for 10 years (19th May, 2011). A good day at the office for Kuala Lumpur City. 




16th April 2021 

Terengganu are, arguably, most Malaysian football supporters’ “second” team. Under Coach Nafuzi Zain “The Turtles” play attractive “on-the-ground” attacking football in a tradition that was started by the venerable 3-time Manager Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, continued by the equally affable Yunus Alif, E Elevarasan and Irfan Bakti and included several experimental appointments such as Peter Butler and Mike Mulvey.  


Invariably Terengganu teams are genuinely competitive and even LOOK like a proper football team in their traditional white shirts with black shorts. They PLAY attacking football and – win, lose, or draw – have the most picturesque playing arenas be-it the compact Sultan Nasiruddin Shah venue in the centre of town, or the palatial Sultan Mizan Stadium close to the airport.  



It’s rare for a team to go away from Terengganu as frustrated as Kuala Lumpur City did after this narrow 0-1 defeat. Bojan Hodak opted for defensive solidity with just one change from the XI who started against Pahang as Aiman Fakhrul continued his alternating role with Indra Putra.  


One of the lessons of the season is that It takes something special to beat Kuala Lumpur City goalkeeper Kevin Mendoza. It was something extra-special from Makan Konate just 2-minutes from time that won this game for the home team. For the neutral, Konate’s was golden as the strike was a ‘worldie” that even included the extra gloss of coming back off the underside of the bar.  


Video of the special goal went viral. Makan Konate became the talk of Malaysia and beyond. Astro Arena did a “special” on him. The most frustrating thing of all? It turned out to be Konate’s ONLY goal of the league season. Talk about making a meal of things!! 


Credit Terengganu, and credit Konate for the goal. But this was a bitter pill for Kuala Lumpur City to swallow. And with three goals conceded in the last minutes of games against Selangor, PJ City, Sri Pahang and now Terengganu there was a frustrating and worrying trend emerging. Examination of all four goals suggests each was an “earned” goal and not defensively “cheap”, but they are worrying signs non-the-less. Terengganu definitely NOT Kuala Lumpur City fans second favourite team after this !!! 




23rd April 2021 

Football is the best game in the World.  

But it can also be a horrible.  


Expletive deleted H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. 



Bojan Hodak named an unchanged starting XI for the first time in the season for the trip North to Alor Setar. With Dominic da Sylva’s injury now confirmed as a season-ending problem Kuala Lumpur City – Bojan – seem to have decided that being compact and difficult to beat is the way to play until an opportunity arises to replace the goals offered by desperately unlucky da Sylva.  


That, in itself, put immense onus on Romel Morales as the lone striker with sporadic support offered by Paulo Josue, Hadin and either Fakhrul Aiman or Indra Putra.  But the tactic seems to have the desired effect in Alor Setar.  


Aidil Shahrin’s Kedah team possess the twin attacking threat of Kipre Tchetche and Kpah Sherman at their marauding best, but the regular Kuala Lumpur City back-5 with Akram Mahinan in front of them were defiant and strong. Paulo Josue’s third goal of the campaign, plus a well-directed Giancarlo Gallifuoco header meant that Kuala Lumpur City went into the 90th minute of this game with a deserved 2-1 lead against a side vying with Terengganu for 2nd best in the League. 


Then. 91 minutes and 23 seconds into the game, a highly debatable penalty decision. The gentlest of contact by Gallifuoco and a penalty awarded. Dispatched unerringly by Tchetche. 


Worse. 95 minutes and 20 seconds. A long free-kick hoisted into the penalty area falls to Kipre Tchetche. The Ivorian is a really good forward who averages a goal every other game in his four-and-a-half seasons in Malaysia and he finds the bottom left hand corner. 


Kedah win 3-2.  


And Johor are up next. 



30th April 2021 

The Philippines National Football Team have unearthed some excellent goalkeepers. Philippines were the first ASEAN Nation to adopt the “Naturalised” option for players and the likes of Neil Etheridge – playing in England – made a real impact. But Michael Falksgaard, Roland Muller and more recently Bernd Schipmann are other naturalized Philippines-eligible goalkeepers who have come to the fore.  


Playing out of the limelight in the Danish second tier in 2020 was a similarly talented goalkeeper. A 26-year-old called Kevin Ray Mendoza Hansen. Danish-born but a 1-capped ASEAN-eligible player. Aware that his Coach, Bojan Hodak, wanted a top-class Goalkeeper Kuala Lumpur City ’s football-aware CEO Stanley Bernard sourced and scouted Mendoza.  


Videos of Mendoza showed he was confident with his feet; dominated his 6-yard box in claiming crosses; was agile for more regular “shot-stopping” duties; and was brave in one-on-ones. Interviews showed him to be level-headed, aware of his weaknesses and ambitious. Kevin Ray Mendoza ticked all the required boxes for the top-class goalkeeper Bojan Hodak was looking for. 



The 7-time (8, as we go to press) Champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) set the footballing standards in Malaysia, ASEAN and arguably beyond. There is (a lot) money to utilise but that money is well spent on good players allied to phenomenal and well-directed facilities. There is also the pressure on the Team management that positive results from an attractive, attacking playing style are demanded by the Royal Management.  


JDT are strong. They came into the contest top of the table with just one defeat in 11 and with the best attack and best defence in the league. Bojan – still shorn of a genuine centre-forward to hold up the ball – named an unchanged starting XI for the third straight game. The record books showed two consecutive defeats, but the vastly experienced Coach saw the disciplined performances in both reverses, and his selection gave his players the confidence that he believed in them.  


In the match JDT started brightly and stalwart winger Gonzalo Cabrera thumped the crossbar with Mendoza floundering. But as the contest wore on Kuala Lumpur City grew into the game and an alert Romel Morales was on hand to slide a headed through ball under JDT ‘keeper Farizal Marlias just before the interval to give Kuala Lumpur City the boost of a half time lead.  


Hariss Harun would equalize for the visitors with a towering far-post header before the hour and many expected Kuala Lumpur City to capitulate. Remember, The City Boys are on a 2-game losing streak and have a nasty habit of conceding very, very late goals. 


Not this time.  


Kevin Mendoza was a tower of strength. He didn’t have to make fantastic saves but he performed difficult tasks with a confidence that spread throughout the team including a block from a fiercely struck Cabrera free-kick that was vital. Then, with 3-minutes to play, JDT earned a corner which tumbled to the back of the Kuala Lumpur City 6-yard box. Kevin Mendoza called clearly, and strode through a ruck of players for the towering high cross. He jumped, reached, held the ball cleanly and clung on as he tumbled to the ground under the most severe pressure from three Johorian attackers just waiting for a slip.  


Confidence, good communication, safe hands and the strength to withstand a triple challenge in the air. Kuala Lumpur City earned a really hard-earned point against the best team in Malaysia. It FELT like a turning-point. 




4th May 2021 

When Stanley Bernard was appointed as CEO of Kuala Lumpur City in January 2021, his first priority was to persuade the KL Utd Sdn Bhd Board of Directors to endorse his choice as Coach of the First team. His selection was a man synonymous with success in Malaysian football. Bojan Hodak. The Board approved the request and Bojan Hodak took on the task of taking Kuala Lumpur City into the new season. 


Hodak was Stanley Bernard’s Coach when the UPB MyTeam project was at its height and the two have maintained a friendship and professional trust since those days. The Croatian born Hodak also guided a Tan Sri Annuar Musa supported Kelantan to 4 trophies in his 2 seasons in charge at Kota Bahru including a unique League, FA Cup, Malaysia Cup treble in 2012.  


Enticed to the then young JDT project under the auspices of His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Johor (TMJ), Hodak started the avalanche of JDT League titles in 2014 to add to the ones won at Kelantan and in Cambodia when he Coached Phnom Penh Crown. Add in a successful rescue act in Penang and an AFF title for Malaysia’s under 19 squad, it’s easy to see why Stanley was so keen on bringing Hodak back into Senior football Management.  



Penang were the visitors to Cheras on Bojan Hodak’s 50th birthday and to say the team gave him reason to celebrate would be to understate matters. For the fourth game in a row, Hodak selected an unchanged team. Mendoza in goal; a back-4 of Kamal Azizi, Gallifuoco, Irfan Zakaria and Danny Ting; Akram Mahinan and Zhafri Yahyah the yin-and-yang in central midfield; Romel Morales leading the line with Paulo Josue in an attacking midfield role whilst Hadin Azman and Fakhrul Aiman provided the attacking width. 


This was arguably KL’s most complete performance of the season with headlines grabbed by Josue’s wonderfully completed hat-trick. The first was a sweetly struck free-kick that flew past Penang ‘keeper Bryan See; his second a calmly taken penalty to restore Kuala Lumpur City ’s lead after Penang had drawn level; the third a decisive right footed finish to complete a flowing end-to-end break out by KL.  


Momentum and confidence seems to be building at Cheras with the Football management duo of Bojan and his recently installed no 2, Nenad Bacina, getting a great response from the players. Whisper it quietly, but Cheras Stadium was beginning to become a very difficult place for teams to visit.     



8th May 2021 

Any club going through a period of rapid change – as Kuala Lumpur City are in 2021 – needs an experienced playing hand or two to assist the Coaching staff on the field of play. Kuala Lumpur City have the benefit three of the great names in Malaysian football on hand to assist the hoped-for progress from Outsiders to Contenders.  


37-year-old Safee Sali started and looks like ending his widely travelled 23-International goal-laden playing career in KL; 40-year-old Indra Putra Mahayuddin – the Malaysia Super Leagues All-time Highest scorer with over 100 goals – would have a significant role to play; whilst 41-year old Shukor Adan’s calming influence learned through a 50+ International caps career would also have its place. But nowhere was the “guiding hand” of the “KL Veterans” more welcome than in a spiky fixture at UiTM. 



On paper, this seemed like a banker “away-win”. UiTM are struggling at the bottom of the table, whilst Kuala Lumpur City are fresh off their best performance of the season. But Bojan Hodak is shorn of the suspended Giancarlo Gallifuoco as well as Kamal Azizi and the balance of the team is knocked askew by a spirited and lively UiTM who bely their lowly League position. 


Indeed UiTM had hit the woodwork through Khairul Izuan before Kuala Lumpur City suffered another late “ghost penalty” incident against them as Irfan Zakaria was mysteriously adjudged to have fouled Kwon Young-Hyon. Kwon took the penalty only for Mendoza to produce a fine save with his legs, and then have the frustration of Kwon reacting quickest to score from close range. 


That’s when Kuala Lumpur City’s 2021 team-spirit showed, again. Such an apparent injustice might quench the fight of a lesser group, but Kuala Lumpur City poured forward. Safee and Shukor were brought on for a late fusillade which saw Paulo Josue hit the crossbar from a free-kick.  


Then with the last action of the match and Goalkeeper Mendoza brought up to help the attack, a Josue free-kick was deflected in by the venerable Shukor Adan. A vital contribution. UiTM appealed long and loud for a hand-ball by Shukor, but as he wheeled away to celebrate, Kuala Lumpur City could – for once – enjoy the fact that a decision had gone FOR them. 


A point earned in the end – however dubious the goal may have been. And perhaps an indication that “Luck evens out” in the end. 


To be continued…. PART 3