The mind games started almost immediately after Kelantan and Armed Forces booked their semis spot in the Malaysia Cup.
The psychological warfare went into high gear with Kelantan insinuating that ATM refused to play the match at a bigger Stadium, in Shah Alam and claimed that their opponents feared their supporters – the Red Army.
But for Armed Forces coach B. Sathianathan, the mind games is something normal before a cruncher, and the former national coach would not get into a discussion as to why they opted for the smaller Selayang Stadium to host the first leg match this Friday.
“My players prefer playing at Selayang and I concurred with them. It is a question of numbers as to familiarity of the playing ground and there is nothing wrong opting for something that we are used to,” contends Sathianathan.
Armed Forces advanced to the semifinals after overcoming Lions XII 4-2 on aggregate while Kelantan overpowered Johor Darul Takzim 8-5, to book their berth. The two teams met in the Malaysia Cup final last year with Kelantan emerging the eventual winners and ATM will surely be gunning for revenge.
“It is a game of 180 minutes of football and Friday will just be the first half. I will be happy with a win and there is no such thing as having an advantage of goals as Kelantan have shown that they are a great attacking team when playing at home,” added Sathia.
“But the difference is that my team too are able to net goals away from home and a win at Selayang will give us the psychological boost for the return leg in Kota Baru.”
Sathia will no doubt be counting on the likes of Hairuddin Omar and the prolific Marlon James to get the goals.
They also boast of a strong engine room with Christie Jayaseelan, Rezal Zambery Yahaya, Mohd Fitri Omar and Argentinian Bruno Martelotto pulling the strings in midfield.
Kelantan on the other hand are one of the most consistent sides having won seven honours since 2010.
They won the Malaysia Cup, Super League and the FA Cup last season and retained the FA Cup in June.
“It is a pity that one of the teams will not make the finals of the Malaysia Cup as I think that ATM and Kelantan are the two best teams in the country presently,” said Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak.
“We have Daudsu Jamaluddin out as he underwent surgery and that somewhat will affect ou line up. But the players are jut raring to go and really the match will be close, as history shows that the matches are often decided by an odd goal.
“If I were in Sathia’s shoes, I too will play at a pitch that my team is familiar with and I respect him for the decision.
“The semis will be decided over two matches so we should not look into the result of the first leg, as there will be still 90 minutes to play in Kota Baru, our fortress.”
Kelantan will be counting on the likes of Mohd Badhri Radzi, Indra Putra Omar, Dickson Nwakaeme and Mohd Norfarhan Mohd to deliver the goods.
And Bojan is well aware that the foursome will be closely watched by the Armed Forces defenders.
Ironically the semis could well be the last time both Sathia and Bojan lead their teams out, provided they make the final as the duo have been linked to moves to Selangor and Penang respectively.
For the time being though, the focus is on the two leg semis, and another shot at glory.