Pahang plan to win Malaysia Cup semi to celebrate King's birthday
A few days after the euphoria of scoring a goal to help my team Pahang reach the semifinals of the Malaysia Cup, I can reflect on the journey that gives me a chance of winning a third trophy here in less than 12 months.
We'll face Kedah in the last four after a 3-2 aggregate victory over PDRM at Shah Alam Stadium. My goal tied things up 1-1 in the second leg before our super-sub Fauzi Roslan came up with a late winner.
It was nearly a year ago that I got the call about signing with the Elephants of Malaysia when I was still with Kitchee in Hong Kong. I watched them play in the 2013 Malaysia Cup final to get a sense of the standard of football here.
To see almost 90,000 fans singing the Tok Gaja anthem -- that means the Elephant in Malay -- after Pahang won the 2013 final against Kelantan, gave me goosebumps.
It's only when you arrive in Pahang that you see and feel the love among the locals for the game. We get plenty of fans attending training sessions. Everywhere you go, you'll find entire generations of a family wearing our unmistakable yellow jersey. It's not something you see in many other countries. We went into the second leg of the quarterfinal last week after a 1-1 draw at home so we knew we had to score to get through. We started the game a bit flat but the singing of the travelling fans really helped to lift the players.
Once we hit the crossbar from a free-kick we started to wonder if it was going to be our day. But for me to then score from the resulting corner and hear the stadium rocking was a great feeling. I was confident then that we would win it. Seeing Fauzi's goal in added time was the icing on the cake. In every cup competition there is a game which is a turning point and I believe this could be the springboard for us to go all the way.
The Malaysia Cup means a lot to the team. It's not just because we are the holders but we also know how much it means to our loyal fans who follow us all over the country. To have over 10,000 supporters make an 8-hour return journey to Kuala Lumpur from our base in Kuantan, knowing they won't get home until 3 or 4 am, is something that the players truly appreciate. Without them I don't think we possibly would have got through.
There was an amazing reception that I received in and around Kuantan the day after the game. The Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Pahang fans were being updated non-stop. I believe it is brilliant for the country to have so many people supporting local football, given how popular the English Premier League is across Malaysia.
The positive effect of a cup run was summed up when I saw the smile of the local security guard at my resort, Mr Ali, a Pahang fanatic. Whenever I give him a ticket, I can see the happiness across his face. After driving off, I can see him punching the sky in delight in the rear view mirror! These experiences are priceless and are examples of how powerful the game can be.
The semifinal will be a tough contest. Kedah cannot be taken lightly, especially after knocking out last year's finalists Kelantan. I was gutted to see my former QPR teammate and fellow central defender Damion Stewart sent off because he's such an important part of the squad. But I am confident that whatever starting XI we put out, we can get a result in the first leg at Kedah's stadium in Alor Setar.
The second leg at home promises to be a special atmosphere as it also marks the birthday of the King of Pahang. Rest assured, we will be going all out to put a smile on the faces of everybody supporting Pahang including the King.