MSL standard higher: Zainal Abidin

Even before the first ball is kicked tonight in the Asian Football Confederation Cup, Selangor coach Zainal Abidin Hassan has fired the first broadside at Tampines Rovers yesterday.

In a dig at Singapore football, the ex-Malaysia international striker claimed that the standard of Malaysian club sides is better than that of the S-League teams.

"I don't like to compare, but for me the (standard of the) league is important. I think definitely the (standard of the) Malaysian league is higher than here," said Zainal at the pre-match conference at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel.

Home United are the last S-League side to progress to the AFC Cup knockout rounds after making it to the round of 16 in 2012, while Singapore's best performance came in 2004 when both the Protectors and Geylang International were losing semi-finalists.

In contrast, at least one Malaysian Super League side has made it to the knockout stages in all but one edition since 2012, with Johor Darul Takzim lifting the Cup last year.

Zainal added: "We all want to play in the AFC Cup because we see that it is where the football is good so far, and I think Malaysia should be somewhere up there.

"Now is the best chance for us in this Asian tournament. We have to play at a high level and bring our best performance."

His sentiments were echoed by Liberian striker Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh, who said: "Every game, I push myself. We are here first to win, and if we can't, to draw.

"I am confident of scoring tomorrow. When I don't score my friends and family get angry. I want to score for them."

As Zainal, 54, prepares his Red Giants to face the Stags, he also reminisced about the Malaysia Cup days when he regularly scored for Selangor against Singapore.

He said: "The rivalry between Singapore and Selangor will never end, because the two were always the glamourous teams in the limelight back then."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'MSL standard higher: Zainal Abidin'. Print Edition | Subscribe