Kedah face goalkeeping crisis
Kedah reserve custodian Syazwan steadying his nerves ahead of LionsXII clash
KEDAH v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
It is the eve of their crunch Malaysia Cup tie with the LionsXII. Yet, Kedah FA chose not to train at the match venue, the Darul Aman Stadium.
Instead, they allowed their visitors to use the venue, while they trained at a small facility deep within a kampung called Peremba, which is a 20-minute drive from the Alor Setar city centre.
Maybe the Canaries were simply being gracious hosts.
Or perhaps, they were trying to keep a tight lid on their preparations.
Because the place is so secluded, not many taxi drivers know where it is.
After all, Kedah coach Tan Cheng Hoe must be nursing a migraine trying to find a solution to his goalkeeping crisis.
His No. 1 shot-stopper, Abdul Hadi Hamid, was stretchered off 43 minutes into the 3-2 defeat by Johor Darul Ta'zim II on Tuesday because of a knee injury, with the score at 1-1.
Hadi's replacement, 19-year-old Syazwan Abdullah, was making his debut for Kedah, and had a night to forget.
First, he found himself in no-man's land as Baihakki Khaizan headed home in first-half stoppage time to give JDT II the lead.
Then, in the 79th minute, Syazwan rushed off his line unnecessarily, leaving his goal gaping for Zaquan Adha to slot home the winner.
"He (Syazwan) is still a young boy, and he was rusty because he hasn't played in a long time," Tan told The New Paper after training yesterday.
"And maybe, playing in front of a 25,000 crowd also made him panic a little."
A bigger crowd is expected at the 32,000-capacity Darul Aman Stadium for tonight's clash, considering Friday is a non-work day in Kedah.
With Hadi ruled out, Syazwan is in line to start again, although Tan might opt for another untested rookie in former Malaysian Under-23 goalkeeper Firdaus Muhammad, 22.
Instead of lamenting over his nightmarish debut, Syazwan is hoping to be given another chance.
"It was great to make my debut for Kedah, although my performance did not go to plan," said the Kedah native, who was named Malaysia's top Under-14 goalkeeper in 2010.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous ahead of the LionsXII match, but all I can do is work hard and have faith in God that everything will work out.
"Whatever happened against JDT II, I take as a lesson. I want the chance to play against the LionsXII, to prove what I can really do.
"We know they are a quick team and good at set-pieces, but I'm sure our defence and myself can match them."
Tan preferred to play his cards close to his chest, insisting that he had not decided between Syazwan and Firdaus for tonight's match.
The 47-year-old, who played for Kedah when they beat a Singapore side featuring current LionsXII assistant coach Nazri Nasir in the 1990 Malaysia Cup final, said he expects his team to bounce back against the LionsXII.
Even if his backline isn't at its most solid, he can count on scintillating stiker Sandro da Silva, who has scored five goals in three Malaysia Cup games, including a 35-metre scorcher against the LionsXII at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sept 12.
Albania midfielder Liridon Krasniqi, who starred in the 1-1 draw at Jalan Besar, is another who seems to be in fine fettle.
Said Tan: "The three points are definitely the target. My message to the boys has been to forget the JDT II game.
"We dominated the game but sometimes this happens in football. You can't win every game. Of course, my players feel a little bit frustrated.
"But I can see from watching them in training that they're motivated to bounce back, and I know they will play their hearts out against the LionsXII."
Fandi warns against complacency
Morale in the Kedah FA camp is low following a shock 3-2 home defeat by Johor Darul Ta'zim II just three days ago.
Worse, their No. 1 goalkeeper Abdul Hadi Hamid is sidelined by a knee injury, with shaky teenager Syazwan Abdullah, 19, likely to make a senior start for the very first time tonight when Kedah take on the LionsXII.
The Canaries appear to be ripe for the taking, but LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad insists his charges must stick to their game plan.
"We can't afford to change anything," said Fandi.
"Even if Kedah play a schoolboy there (in goal), we will approach the game the same way.
"Just because one player doesn't doesn't play, doesn't mean there will be a big difference.
"Any unmarked player is a dangerous player. All our players know they have a job to do."
LionsXII goalkeeper coach John Burridge quipped: "I'm saying nothing.
"I've learnt my lesson many years ago not to say anything in a situation like this.
"For all we know, he (Syazwan) could come up with a fantastic performance against us tomorrow."
The spoils were shared in the first clash between the two teams three weeks ago at the Jalan Besar Stadium, which ended 1-1.
The LionsXII have good memories of playing in the state of Kedah, though.
After all, this was where they started their journey to Malaysian FA Cup glory, with a comfortable 4-0 win over amateur outfit PB Melayu Kedah on Feb 28, at the same venue as tonight's match, Darul Aman Stadium.
Fandi expects a much tougher challenge tonight.
"We know what they are capable of," he said.
"Sandro (da Silva), (Chidi) Edeh, their strikers, are very dangerous.
"Give them space from 25 or 30 metres and they'll shoot.
"So my message to the boys is simple: Don't take Kedah lightly, and focus on our own strategy."