Fandi confident LionsXII can upset moneybags JDT
But Fandi wants to build on momentum after FA Cup win as he reshuffles pack for huge test
LIONSXII v JOHOR DARUL TA'ZIM
(Tonight, 7.45pm, Jalan Besar Stadium, Live on StarHub TV Ch 112/205)
They will be at home, and are coming off a morale-boosting win over Johor Darul Ta'zim II that makes them favourites to make the Malaysian FA Cup semi-finals.
But LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad insisted yesterday that his side will be up against it when they take on Johor Darul Ta'zim in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) at Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
"It won't be easy against JDT, because we are underdogs, and everyone knows that. We cannot slip up again. We are in the bottom half, and we need the three points," said the 52-year-old Fandi.
"Momentum is very important in football. It's not good to win one game, and lose the next. There needs to be consistency."
Coached by the talented Bojan Hodak, the Johor outfit, flush with cash through their benefactor, Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, are packed with Malaysian internationals and also feature some classy foreign signings, including Singapore star midfielder Hariss Harun.
The task for the home side became even harder after veteran striker and top scorer Khairul Amri suffered a groin strain in Wednesday's win over JDT II and was ruled out for two weeks.
Khairul Nizam, who himself has only recently returned from injury, will take his place tonight.
"It's a very difficult situation for us. Any team that lose their top scorer are always in for a hard time," lamented Fandi, after yesterday's training session at ITE Central in Ang Mo Kio.
"But we are glad to have (Khairul) Nizam fit and ready to play against JDT.
"He can give us a physical edge. He showed that against Pahang, so I hope he can do it again.
"This is the reason why I selected Nizam ahead of Sahil (Suhaimi). When playing against strong defenders, you need a strong striker."
Nizam already has a goal to his name after his late strike in last week's 3-2 league loss to Pahang.
The 23-year-old is eager to help the team climb up the MSL table, where they are currently ninth out of 12 teams.
He said: "It won't be an easy task because Amri is the team's top striker.
"Whoever replaces him is always going to have very large shoes to fill.
"It won't be easy for me, especially with the opponents being JDT.
"I need to really focus and get myself into the right positions and, hopefully, I can get one or two goals to improve on my tally.
"Of course, the main thing is that we win to get our league season back on track."
With 10 goals scored and none conceded over three games, the LionsXII are shining in the FA Cup, but it's a different story in the MSL, where they are winless in five straight games.
Fandi is looking to build on their midweek success and, to do that, he is banking on some fresh faces in the starting 11.
The home side will likely adopt the same 4-3-3 line-up, with midfield hardman Raihan Rahman - fresh from his impressive showing against JDT II - sitting in front of the defence, with Firdaus Kasman and Izzdin Shafiq alongside him.
In attack, Nazrul Nazari looks set to start on the right ahead of Gabriel Quak, who is likely to be rested. Faris Ramli and Nizam complete the front line.
Said Fandi: "Football is a team game. I cannot play the same 11 players week in, week out.
"Players like Gabriel and Sahil need to be rested after playing most of the games, while Nizam and Nazrul are fit and raring to go.
"You need to balance the squad to make sure that everyone is ready to offer something to the team.
"For other situations, it is simple: If you are on form, you are picked. If you are off form, somebody comes in and takes your place."
LIONSXII PROBABLE LINE-UP:
Izwan Mahbud, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Zulfahmi Ariffin, Madhu Mohana, Faritz Hameed, Raihan Rahman, Izzdin Shafiq, Firdaus Kasman, Nazrul Nazari, Faris Ramli, Khairul Nizam