LionsXII desperate to avoid another 'away' defeat
PERAK v LIONSXII
(Tomorrow, 8.45pm, Perak Stadium)
Just two games into the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season and LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad already feels as if his young team face a pivotal test tomorrow.
Speaking to The New Paper ahead of the clash against Perak in Ipoh tomorrow, Fandi highlighted the importance of avoiding a second consecutive defeat, after the LionsXII lost 2-0 to Kelantan in Kota Bahru last week.
"It's make it or break it for us. We absolutely must get something out of the Perak game," said the coach.
"It's important not to lose twice in a row, especially away from home because the big hostile crowds, coupled with a bad result can have a very bad effect on the boys (with two away games to follow)."
After the LionsXII's excellent 5-3 home victory against PDRM to kick off the season, Fandi expressed some concern about his team's schedule of four away games on the trot.
The LionsXII, who leave for Ipoh today, will travel to Kedah on Feb 28 to face third division side PB Melayu in an FA Cup first-round clash and the team will conclude their four-game road schedule against Felda in Kuala Lumpur in the MSL on March 7.
The team lost their first test on the road, and Fandi does not want morale to be hurt badly with a poor run away from home.
"Against Kelantan, we played well, especially in the second half," said the 52-year-old.
"Now, I'm hoping the boys can pick themselves up, look at the positives from last Sunday and get a good result in Ipoh."
Currently joint-top of the MSL with Kelantan after two rounds, Perak will not be short on confidence - after posting 2-0 wins over Sime Darby and ATM.
The Seladang are tutored by former S.League Coach of the Year, M Karathu, who led Woodlands Wellington in 2002 and 2003.
Perak endured a difficult season last year, when they finished ninth out of 12 teams, but they have added former K-League midfielder Woong Namkung to their ranks, to play alongside Brazilian imports Charles Souza Chad (striker) and Marco Tulio (playmaker).
Though the Brazilians have yet to get off the mark, Fandi has warned his side not to underestimate their opponents.
Said Fandi: "I don't think Perak will be more difficult than Kelantan, but they are a very hardworking team.
"They run around and cover plenty of space, (so) we need to be at peak fitness to counter Perak's tactics.
"We also have to be careful of their captain Nasir Basharuddin (who scored in each of their games) and Woong, who is very fast."
LionsXII winger Gabriel Quak, who got off the mark against PDRM, believes a good start in Ipoh could make all the difference.
"If we play the same way against Perak like we did in the second half in Kelantan, we have a good chance to win," said the 24-year-old.
"Play in the first 15 minutes is key. In Kelantan, we started shaky and then got stronger. But to come back from a goal down is very difficult, especially playing away.
"The season is still new, but it's not good to lose your first two away games. We need to be positive against Perak."
Timely boost as Faris and Sahil return
The team started the 2015 campaign with four strikers, and two games into the Malaysian Super League (MSL) season, Fandi Ahmad is down to two.
Little wonder he is a relieved man, after the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) announced that Under-23 stars Sahil Suhaimi and Faris Ramli will be in the LionsXII squad who will travel to Ipoh today for tomorrow's clash with Perak.
Striker Sahil (right, No. 32) and attacking winger Faris (left, No. 17) were initially named in the U-23 squad to face the Syria U-23s in a friendly at Jalan Besar Stadium tomorrow, as the side continue to prepare for the start of the Great Eastern-Yeo's S.League season and June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games on home soil.
But, TNP understands that following a discussion between LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad and U-23s coach Aide Iskandar, both players will turn out for the LionsXII, instead.
It is a timely boost for the MSL side, after strikers Khairul Nizam and Sufian Anuar both suffered injuries in the 2-0 defeat by Kelantan last week.
"Right now, we have three or four players out," Fandi said.
"Nizam and Sufian are out, as well as (defender) Zakir (Samsudin) and Chris (van Huizen), who has an illness.
"Faris and Sahil returning is a big boost. Against Kelantan, we lacked imagination in the final third.
"These two give us plenty of options up front. Faris, in particular, is important to us, because he has the ability to open up defences."
Both Sahil and Faris opened their accounts in the LionsXII's 5-3 victory over PDRM in their first MSL match of the season.
Faris scored the team's second from close range, while Sahil, notched his goal four minutes after coming on as a second-half-substitute.
The former Courts Young Lions striker curled home a delightful free-kick from just outside the box.
Sahil, 22, touted by many to be a star in the making, will likely start the Perak clash from the bench, again, with Fandi choosing to go with Faris and Gabriel Quak on the flanks, supporting target man Khairul Amri.
Said Fandi: "I am hoping for Sahil to spring a surprise. He has the quality to trouble any team.
"I have yet to decide who will start up front. We will have one more training session in Perak to assess my options."