Thursday, 21 May 2015

Malaysia FA Cup Final: LionsXII need Batman and Robin against the Jon-ker


Like all superhero movies, dark clouds loom over a troubled city and standing above the skyline is a robust silhouette with a cape, ready to battle the villain who dances to an evil tune.

On Saturday night at the majestic Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, a blockbuster will be on show as a stellar cast take their place in the Malaysia FA Cup final.

Singapore outfit LionsXII face Kelantan FA in a titanic tussle that will carry more significance than usual. The traditional state rivalries are cast aside for the perennial archrivals from across the Causeway, who come in shades of red and white.

Mercurial striker Khairul Amri will carry the hopes of the city nation, but unlike previous seasons in his LionsXII cape, he will have a new sidekick in half-brother Khairul Nizam willing him on.

But before the duo start dreaming of a victory lap, they must deal with key antagonist Jon McKain, who has the perfect attributes to play the role of Batman's biggest nemesis, the Joker.

Central defender McKain schooled the LionsXII attackers in February as Kelantan won 2-0 in Kota Bahru. The Singapore outfit have the miserable record of one win and six losses against the Red Warriors since their return to Malaysian domestic football in 2012.

Khairul Nizam (L) and Khairul Amri will be hoping to continue their rich vein of form against Kelantan. Photo credit: FAS

Amri has been Fandi Ahmad's most lethal offensive weapon, with five goals in the 2015 FA Cup. Meanwhile, Nizam has finally broken free from the shackles of his injury nightmare to justify why former Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic once coined him as "Singapore's next no.9".

Against KL SPA in the Round of 16, Amri's brace in the 26th and 84th minute was a sign of things to come. In the quarterfinal first leg against Johor Darul Ta'zim II, the veteran needed all just four minutes to find his range again.

All this while, the young Nizam ploughed tirelessly by his side. He was finally given due recognition when he extinguished JDT II's hopes of a second leg comeback, netting his team's first goal in a 2-1 away win.

This is where the plot started to thicken.

LionsXII realised that another superlative effort over two nights against Terengganu could move them a step closer to Malaysian football folklore in becoming the first foreign team to lift the coveted trophy. So the boys from Singapore rose as one to the challenge.

Amri will be looking to add to his five-goal tally when LionsXII take on Kelantan this weekend. Photo credit:

The first leg at Jalan Besar Stadium was an open game of football, with both sides going for the jugular, before Faris Ramli and Nizam calmed nerves, despite a stunning free kick from Gustavo Lopez in a 2-1 home win.

Amri and Nizam rolled up their sleeves and trotted out at the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium Stadium for the second chapter of a classic cup encounter. Like a good movie script, there were incredulous goals from Amri, a monumental comeback by the Turtles, in a see-saw battle with both sides playing their roles to perfection. The occasion was marred by a post-match riot that saw police use tear gas to disperse angry fans in the wee hours of the morning.

Now Amri and Nizam look up to the heavens as the narrative goes into its final chapter. Cue evil tune, dim lights on dark alley. Up steps their nemesis, former Australian International McKain, who played in the 2004 Olympics and 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup.

Blessed with the movie star looks, a hip ponytail hairstyle and physical presence that seems imposing against slightly build forwards in Southeast Asia, the ex-Adelaide United captain bullied Singapore's attacking duo into submission back on Valentine's Day in Kota Bahru.

His mastery of the dark arts of defence seemed straight out of a Serie A hand book as he left Amri with a bruised knee after a brutal challenge and a limping Nizam who was off the the scene with a hamstring injury. McKain also scored Kelantan's opening goal from a diving header.

Add McKain's burning desire to return to the spotlight, having watched Kelantan's heroic comeback against Pahang -- he was suspended for last Saturday's second leg -- and the Joker will be back to his supreme best.

McKain will return from suspension for Kelantan against LionsXII in the Malaysia FA Cup final this Saturday. Photo credit:

The script is complete and the actors cast. Amri was made for blockbusters like this. Just ask the Thailand players who thought they had him subdued in the 2007 AFF Suzuki Cup final, only for him win the title with a 81st minute scorcher.

McKain will definitely be in his face all night, but Singapore football needs a superhero right now.

Will it be Batman, or his sidekick, who saves the day for LionsXII, or Kelantan's Joker -- The Jon-ker -- who foils Singapore's finest once again?

The 90,000 fans are in for a Bukit Jalil battle royale. It promises to be an Southeast Asian football spectacle to remember, more exciting than any Saturday night movie premiere.

Kelvin Leong, a Singapore-based Editor for ESPN FC, is former media officer for the Singapore national team and ex-regional editor of

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