KUALA LUMPUR: Portuguese coach Eduardo Almeida has achieved his goal of guiding Melaka into the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Cup for the first time in a decade.
But the question now is whether Melaka can continue their fairy tale run as heavyweights Darul Ta’zim await them in the two-leg quarter-final tie.
For Almeida, anything beyond the last eight will be a bonus.
The main target for the 39-year-old is to make sure Melaka do not get relegated to the Premier League next season.
On Saturday, Melaka surprisingly lost 5-3 to University Technology Malaysia (UiTM) in Shah Alam, but they still made the last eight as Group C runners-up, while Darul Ta’zim topped Group D with a 3-1 win over 33-time champions Selangor in Johor Baru.
Melaka’s fortunes in the Malaysia Cup will likely be decided in the first leg when they entertain Darul Ta’zim at Hang Jebat Stadium this weekend.
Anything less than a victory at home will see Melaka facing a hurricane task when they travel to Larkin Stadium for the return leg on Sept 23 or 24.
For the record, Darul Ta’zim have not lost at home since the 2-1 defeat to Felda United in a Malaysia Cup knockout match on Nov 28, 2015.
Unlike in previous seasons, Darul Ta’zim are taking the Malaysia Cup seriously, following their poor showings in the AFC Cup and FA Cup.
Ulisses Morais’ side have only secured the Super League crown this season.
In the Super League, Darul Ta’zim hammered Melaka 7-0 at home in April, but the return match ended 1-1 at Hang Jebat Stadium on the following month.
“We know that Darul Ta’zim are stronger than us, but we will work hard and play our best to get a good result,” Almeida told Timesport on Monday.
“We have nothing to lose in the quarter-finals as we have achieved our target. A team that play Darul Ta’zim need to be ready in all aspects, and we will do just that in training.
“The team have about six days to prepare for the first leg. We need to minimise individual mistakes, which saw us conceding three soft goals against UiTM on Saturday, and also play more compactly.
“We also need to sharpen our finishing, as there will not be many scoring opportunities against Darul Ta’zim,” he said.
Almeida hopes Macedonian centre-back Jasmin Mecinovic and Croatian striker Marko Simic will regain full fitness from injuries for the first leg.
Mecinovic has not featured for the last three months due to a knee problem, but he is already back in training, while Simic is racing against time to regain fitness following a leg injury in training.
The winner of this tie will face either Perak or Pahang in the semi-finals.
Perak topped Group B by edging weakened Felda United 2-1 to set-up a quarter-final clash against Pahang, who finished runners-up in Group A.
It will be Perak’s first quarter-final appearance since 2011.
Perak coach Mehmet Durakovic, who won the Malaysia Cup both as a player and trainer with Selangor, is determined to end his club’s 17-year drought in the competition.
“The Malaysia Cup is one of the oldest competitions in the region and I have fond memories of winning it with Selangor.
“This is a prestigious tournament and I want to win it with Perak,” said Durakovic, whose side will travel to Kuantan for the first leg quarter-final match. -NST