Fandi to test his defence in Safuwan's absence
He has admitted that he has a thin defence ahead of the new Malaysian Super League (MSL) season.
Tonight, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad will see how his backline stands up against MSL opponents when his men take on last season's top-scorer Paulo Rangel and the rest of the Terrengganu team in a pre-season friendly at Kuala Terengganu.
Key defender Safuwan Baharudin, one of the few LionsXII players to emerge with credit from a dismal campaign last season, is not with the team as it is believed he is in Abu Dhabi for trials with A-League side Melbourne City.
That means Afiq Yunos and Madhu Mohana have the chance to prove to Fandi that they are up to the task to be the two central defenders ahead of the season-opener against PDRM at home on Feb 7, should Safuwan earn a move Down Under.
Both defenders impressed early last season, but suffered a dip in form just like most of their teammates as the LionsXII limped to an eighth-placed finish in the 2014 MSL campaign.
Utility man Wahyudi Wahid, who faced Rangel in the Sultan of Selangor's Cup last year and 20-year-old Faris Azienuddin, will also be eager to establish themselves in the upcoming matches that will include the President of Maldives Invitational Soccer Cup in the Maldives from Jan 21 to 29.
Said Fandi: "We definitely wish Safuwan well for his trials, but it is going to be a big headache for me if we don't have him in defence.
"Our options are limited and we will see how Afiq and Madhu combine. Wahyudi and Faris will also have a chance, and we will see which is our best combination.
"Our defence did well in recent friendlies - a 2-0 win over PKNS FC and a 0-0 draw with Negeri Sembilan - but those were with Safuwan in the team.
"This match against Terengganu is a good test for our defence to see whether they can handle the pressure of playing against opponents who can field two big foreign strikers.
"Of course, it won't be just about the defence. I want to see teamwork and goals at the other end, as well."
Afiq, who coped admirably with Rangel in two meetings with the Brazilian's former club Selangor last season, is looking to stake his claim as a first-team regular after losing his spot to Baihakki Khaizan.
The 24-year-old told The New Paper: "I didn't play much in the latter part of last season and I also did not play in the Suzuki Cup.
"Then I got married last Saturday and just recovered from a toe injury. But it all starts now and we have to focus on getting good results in this new season.
"As as friend, we want to see Safuwan go as far as he can. But if he signs for another team, it will be a big loss for us because he is a very important player in defence and even in attack.
"But the plus side is, this can also be an opportunity for other players, such as Madhu and I, to step up."
Safuwan's adventure begins
National defender Safuwan Baharudin left for Australia on Wednesday as he kicks off his first attempt to play professional football for a foreign team.
It is understood that the 23-year-old LionsXII centre back (left) will be attending trials with A-League side Melbourne City. He will be aiming to impress coach John van't Schip in a 12-day training camp in Abu Dhabi after departing from Australia yesterday.
The Heart, who are currently sixth out of 10 teams in the A.League as the competition enters a hiatus for the Asian Cup, will play two friendly matches, including Al-Jazira on Sunday.
Melbourne City have four imports - former Chelsea winger Damien Duff, former West Brom midfielder Robert Koren, Argentine midfielder Jonatan Germano and Dutch defender Rob Wielaert.
This means the club have an extra foreign player spot to fill and Safuwan will want to capitalise on the fact that the squad are light on defenders.
Former Pahang coach Ron Smith is also said to be with the club in a technical capacity and would have had observed the 1.81-metre defensive lynchpin up close when the stylish footballer starred for the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League from 2012 to 2014.
Smith would have had the chance to talk to van't Schip about Safuwan's strength on the ball, his good reading of the game, pace, fine tackling skills and ability to score goals.
While Safuwan declined to comment about his latest move, in an earlier interview with The New Paper, he said: "There's no more holding back now. If an A-League team want me, then it's a 100 per cent 'yes' from me."