Kota Bharu: Norfarhan Muhammad scored twice in the first half to help Kelantan edge Malaysian east coast rivals Terengganu 3-2 to advance to the AFC Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday.
The Red Warriors adapted better to the soggy conditions at the Sultan Mohammad IV Stadium in the opening half and stormed into a 3-0 lead at the interval thanks to Norfarhan’s brace and a stunning free-kick by Rizal Fahmi Abdul Rosid on the stroke of half-time.
However, Terengganu battled back in the second half and Ismail Faruqi cut the deficit before Francis Doe netted a penalty five minutes from time to set up a tense finale against a Kelantan side reduced to 10 players following the dismissal of Nwaneri Obinna.
“I was concerned about how my team would appreciate this game especially given the emotion that they displayed after winning the FA Cup last Saturday,” said Kelantan coach Bojan Hodak.
“I was unhappy with our second half display because it looked like some of our players thought the game had already been won and they lost their focus.
“However, Terengganu gave us some motivation by saying they would win the match before it was played.”
A torrential downpour delayed the start of the match for half an hour and left the playing surface in a heavy condition with pockets of standing water all over the pitch.
The soggy conditions played a big part in Kelantan’s opening goal in the third minute as a long ball by Nwoha Onyekachi was slowed down by a puddle on the right of box which allowed Denny Antwi to latch on to it and send a low ball across the face of the Terengganu goal.
And once again, the ball slowed down in the wet conditions and Norfarhan charged in to poke it home from six yards out.
The home side increased their advantage in the 19th minute with another Norfarhan goal as the midfielder met Nurul Azwan Roya’s corner with a firm header that was saved well by goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee but rebounded nicely for Norharfan to fire the ball in at the second attempt.
The match seemed to be over as a contest when Rizal Fahmi made it 3-0 in stoppage time at the end of the first half as his free-kick gave Sharbinee no chance.
To their credit, Terengganu continued to battle for what seemed like a lost cause in the second half and the Turtles were rewarded when Faruqi pulled a goal back in the 59th minute.
Faruqi’s corner from the left was half-cleared by the Kelantan defence and the ball came right back to him on the flank. He took some time to measure the shot before unleashing an unstoppable effort into the top left corner of the Kelantan net.
Despite that setback, Kelantan appeared to have done enough to seal their passage into the quarter-finals until a clumsy challenge by Nwaneri on Abdul Hadi Yahya five minutes from time saw the Nigerian sent off and Kelantan reduced to 10 men in the remaining minutes.
Doe converted the spot kick to cut the deficit to one but Terengganu were unable to capitalise on the extra man in the remaining minutes as they bowed out of the competition.
“I wasn’t happy with the goals conceded in the first half but I was pleased with the character shown by the players in battling back from three goals down,” said Terengganu coach Peter Butler.
“Kelantan adapted better to the wet conditions yesterday which was why they made such a strong start. But I thought that Terengganu played the better football overall.”