IT is going to be an uphill task for Pahang to defend the three titles they won last season.
And coach Zainal Abidin Hassan did not hide the fact despite secretly hoping they will do better than last season where the defending Malaysia Cup champions, won the Charity Shield, FA Cup and defended the Malaysia Cup.
“It’ll be a very tricky situation for us and I will be the first to admit it,” said Zainal on Saturday in Kuantan after the unveiling of the team’s new strips.
“Of course I want to defend all three titles. But it easier said than done.
“All teams are going to come at us with their guns blazing and seeking revenge for denying them three title last season.”
Pahang start their defence of titles in the very first game when they play Johor DT this Saturday at the Larkin Stadium in the Charity Shield match.
“A loss in our opening game will mean we have failed to defend one title,” said Zainal who saw has team defeat LionsXII 1-0 last season to win the Charity Shield.
“It is no consolation that we are playing League champions Johor JDT and our matches have also been close and tight. Although we have a good away record against them in the last two seasons where we have not lost, it is going to be a different ball game this time around.
“Johor DT will surely be looking to starting the season on a bright note after having only one title last season despite having a formidable team.”
Pahang had also defeated Johor DT in the Malaysia Cup final 5-3 on penalty shoot-outs after the match ended in a 2-2 draw after extratime.
Zainal said that he has minimum changes to his 2014 squad because he believes they have yet to reach the full potential.
“We did well last season, but believe the team has more to show. Our advantage is majority of the players have been together for two seasons and we are a very close kit team, we understands each other very well. We need to use this to our advantage.
“I have told my players that they have to work much harder than last season if they want to do well and they understand the situation.”
Zainal said realistically, Pahang winning one title will be an achievement.
“But whether the fans and the management will accept that I do not know.”
Zainal said that there is many scenarios which Pahang could end up the season.
“As we are playing in the AFC Cup, it is my goal after having won three local titles, to make the final at the Asian level. If we do, will that be accepted as an achievement.
“Or we could go to win the League, which we missed last year. If we win the League title and fail to defend the three titles, would that be considered a failure?
“Or if we win only two titles in the season, would that also be a failure.
“Without doubt the competition this season is going to be very tough. I just hope that we will overcome all the odds and at least bag a title.
“Anything more will be a bonus.”
However, Zainal was aware that he will be watched very closely and the pressure would be tremendous.
Zainal’s only two notable signing are D. Saavindran but the former Harimau Muda A player and former Kelantan defender Abdul Aziz Ismail.
However, Saavindran is not expected to feature for the next two months as he is still carrying an ankle injury.
Gary Steven Robbat was supposed to have come as a package to Pahang, but after signing, the former backed out and instead signed for Johor DT.
FA of Malaysia have found Gary guilty and have banned him for three months and fined him.
The going certainly looks tough for Zainal who has been a very successful player and coach, and this season could well be his real test of withstanding the pressure cooker situation.
He could come out smelling like a rose or dragged through mud because fans hardly appreciate past records.