HODAK PRIMES CITY BOYS FOR CHALLENGING ROAD AHEAD
Kuala Lumpur City turns its focus to the Super League after several weeks of exciting Cup action and looking to stabilise the club’s position in the league standings.
While Kuala Lumpur was competing in the AFC Cup and FA Cup, the other teams played their games in hand which resulted in the City Boys’ slipping one spot from fifth to sixth in the table.
The clash with Petaling Jaya City at Cheras on Saturday night (kick-off: 8.15pm) takes Kuala Lumpur to the halfway stage with the chance to improve on last year’s position at the same point of the season.
Kuala Lumpur was seventh with 13 points after 11 matches in 11 matches and only need one point to reach halfway with a better record this year.
Although Selangor are a point behind with a game in hand and Melaka United too could overtake Kuala Lumpur, coach Bojan Hodak believes the club is perfectly positioned for a run of difficult games to come.
After PJ City, Kuala Lumpur faces Selangor, Kedah and Johor Darul Ta’zim in successive Super League matches before travelling to Ho Chi Minh City for the AFC Cup Asean zone semi-final against Viettel on August 10.
“More or less every team is one game behind or one game ahead and I think we are where we expect,” said Hodak of Kuala Lumpur’s league position. “Last season, we were seventh at the halfway stage and this year we could be sixth. With all the problems we have, this is realistic for us.”
WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT
The problems Hodak is referring to relate to the selection of players for the PJ City match, no thanks to injuries and suspensions of key players.
Captain Paulo Josue has been ruled out with a groin injury suffered in the 1-0 defeat to Selangor in last week’s FA Cup second round match while midfielder Akram Mahinan and right-back Kamal Azizi Zabri are serving one-match suspensions. Winger J. Partiban is also sidelined with a torn groin muscle while left-back Nabil Hakim Bokhari’s season is over after going under the knife to repair his torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“This will definitely affect our plans because we have two suspensions in Akram and Kamal and several injured players. We are very short in every position so if anyone is ready even just to warm up, we are grateful,” said Hodak.
“We are trying to win every game we play, so whoever is available has to take the responsibility to get the win.”
Hodak also has to pick a new captain from several candidates including Zhafri Yahya and Irfan Zakaria.
Zhafri captained the side when Josue was rested for the FA Cup first round match against Langkawi City while Irfan wore the captain’s armband for one Super League match in 2019.
“I will decide on who is to become captain later, taking into account their seniority,” said Hodak referring to Zhafri’s 156 appearances and Irfan’s 130 since 2016, although the latter went to Kedah for one season in 2020.
Jordan Mintah will be looking to get off the mark in his first Super League outing of the season after being denied a goal against Selangor last week and will likely have Romel Morales in support with Josue sidelined.
The vacancies in the team has also created a chance for youngsters Arif Shaqirin Suhaimi and Anwar Ibrahim to stake a claim for a starting position.
Kuala Lumpur has won all four home games against Petaling Jaya City, whether playing at Cheras, Selayang or Persada Plus. But PJ City are an enigma, playing with an all-local line-up but still able to keep their heads above water when nearly everybody expected them to be the whipping boys.
Hodak, for one, is not taking the threat of the “other” Klang Valley city team, especially after only winning the home leg last season 1-0 and being held 2-2 away.
“They are a very hardworking team, nobody thrashed them and if you watched their matches, all the matches are very tight,” said the Croatian. “So when you say that we should beat them because they don’t have foreign players, it is wrong. They have fighters and that is why they are collecting points.”
Hodak picked national team forward Darren Lok, S. Kumaahran, M. Kogileswaran Raj, V. Ruventhiran and veteran Mahalli Jasuli as some of the players to watch.
“They have a lot of good and experienced players, it does not matter whether they are local or not. Even Mahalli can be dangerous on his day,” added Hodak.
KL v PJ CITY TRIVIA
1. The two teams have met eight times with KL winning six against one defeat, with one draw. KL has scored 14 goals and conceded nine
2. PJ City’s only win over KL was in 2019 with Safee Sali scoring an injury-time winner
3. KL have played PJ City in three different home venues, winning all four of them by a single-goal margin with a combined aggregate score of 6-2
4. Paulo Josue has scored three times for KL against PJ City – the most by any player in this fixture. Former KL striker Romdhizat Jamian has scored twice while M. Sugunthan also has two goals for PJ City, then known as MISC-MIFA, in 2014
5. The two teams first met in the third-tier FAM League in 2014 and this is the fifth season they have been in the same division together.