Who will be the main challengers to Johor Darul Ta'zim in 2022 Malaysia Cup?

Although they have now won the Malaysia Super League in the past nine years, Johor Darul Ta'zim still only have two Malaysia Cups to show for their efforts in the same period. Johor Darul Ta'zim FC

The 2022 Malaysia Cup kicks off on Wednesday and -- at first glance -- it is difficult to see anyone other than Johor Darul Ta'zim emerging as champions come the end of November.

Fresh from lifting their hands on a 9th consecutive Malaysia Super League title, the Southern Tigers are undeniably once again the team to beat.

But if there is one thing that remains the beauty of cup competitions, it is that upsets are always on the cards -- and JDT have proven to be beatable when it comes to the Malaysia Cup.

Since they won the first of their nine straight league crowns in 2014, JDT have perhaps surprisingly only won the Malaysia Cup twice in 2017 and 2019 (they have also only won the Malaysia FA Cup on two occasions in that time).

In 2014 and last year, they were beaten finalists but they did suffer the ignominy of missing out on the knockout round altogether back in 2016.

Adding to the intrigue and excitement is also the fact that this season's format has done away with the group stage, meaning it will be a straight two-legged knockout competition starting with the Round of 16.

Of course, motivation to go all the way will be high given they already have the league title and FA Cup in the bag, meaning this season is now a genuine chance for them to claim a first-ever domestic treble.

So who will be the likeliest to stand in their way?

The MSL runners-up: Terengganu (2nd in Malaysia Super League)

As MSL runners-up, Terengganu have to be regarded as JDT's main contenders and they are certainly a team in form.

Having seemed destined for mid-table mediocrity at one stage of the season, a stunning run of nine straight wins to end the season ultimately saw the Turtles pip both Sabah and Negeri Sembilan to second spot.

Terengganu also have the benefit of being on the opposite side of the draw to JDT, meaning they will only face the league champions if they get to the final.

Nonetheless, Terengganu look to be heavily reliant on their foreign contingent of Kipre Tchetche, Kpah Sherman and Manny Ott for inspiration and they also do not have the best record in the Malaysia Cup, with their only triumph all the way back in 2001.

Round of 16 opponents: Sri Pahang (7th in Malaysia Super League)

The rising force: Sabah (3rd in Malaysia Super League)

Having had to endure some difficult times for two decades, Sabah announced their ascent this year -- with the appointment of ex-Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee, followed by the arrival of several high-profile signings leading to a third-place finish in the MSL -- their highest since 2022.

Unlike Terengganu, plenty of the good work that Sabah does is led by local stalwarts such as Baddrol Bakhtiar, Nazirul Naim and Khairul Fahmi, although South Korean defender Park Tae-soo (a surprise top scorer with eight goals in the league) and Indonesian livewire Saddil Ramdani offer that extra bit of quality too.

In contrast to Terengganu's late-season surge, Sabah's failure to wrap up a runners-up finish in the MSL was down to a trying end to the campaign, where they won just two of their final seven outings.

But the Rhinos look a side that could potentially thrive in cup competitions, armed led by a tactician with plenty of previous experience and with a seemingly-straightforward tie against second-tier UiTM FC as they look to win the Malaysia Cup for the first time.

Round of 16 opponents: UiTM FC (7th in Malaysia Premier League)

The surprise package: Negeri Sembilan (4th in Malaysia Super League)

Considering 2022 was their first season back in the top tier after three years in the Malaysia Premier League, Negeri Sembilan exceeded all expectations with a fourth-place finish.

The trick now is to carry that on into the Malaysia Cup -- a competition which they won twice in three years from 2009-11.

With K. Devan at the helm, Negeri Sembilan have a coach who is no stranger to winning silverware although the Malaysia Cup remains the one trophy that has eluded the 61-year-old throughout his career.

The tricky bit for the Deers however is the fact that the luck of the draw has handed them an opening test against Kedah Darul Aman, who are no slouches themselves having reached the final of the Malaysia Cup in four of the last six editions for one triumph in 2016.

Round of 16 opponents: Kedah Darul Aman (8th in Malaysia Super League)

The record winners: Selangor (5th in Malaysia Super League)

If there is one thing about Selangor, it is that they can never be written off in the Malaysia Cup even when they have not been performing at their best on the league front.

A third consecutive fifth-place finish in the MSL should thus hardly bother the record 32-time Malaysia Cup champions, especially considering they finished the campaign with four wins and two draws from their final seven matches.

In Caion, Selangor do boast one of Malaysian football's most-prolific strikers and he is also ably supported by the likes of Nor Hakim Hassan, Mukhairi Ajmal and the resurgent Brendan Gan -- who is incredibly in career-best form after overcoming cancer.

Selangor should have no problems overcoming second-tier Kelantan United in the opening round. Once they get going on a cup run, it might be difficult to stop the Red Giants -- as history has proven.

Round of 16 opponents: Kelantan United (5th in Malaysia Premier League)

The defending champions: Kuala Lumpur City (6th in Malaysia Super League)

Perhaps the biggest challengers to JDT are the side that did exactly that a year ago.

Following a 32-year wait, Kuala Lumpur City won their fourth Malaysia Cup in 2021 with a shock 3-0 final triumph over the Southern Tigers.

One of the by-products of that triumph was qualification for this year's AFC Cup, where the City Boys again did brilliantly to reach the final before ultimately succumbing to Oman's Al Seeb last Saturday -- a defeat which did little to take away from some overall outstanding displays.

KL City will undoubtedly be a better side from their continental exploits, and can take heart from the fact that they have done it all before as they look to successfully defend their Malaysia Cup crown.

Round of 16 opponents: PDRM (6th in Malaysia Premier League)