We can surprise Selangor, says Fandi
Fandi confident that his LionsXII can surprise arch-rivals Selangor at Shah Alam tonight
SELANGOR v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
Seven games and just one victory.
It has been more than two months since the LionsXII last won in the Malaysian Super League and coach Fandi Ahmad is very concerned.
Ahead of his side's clash with arch-rivals Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadium tonight, Fandi admitted that his side's failure to win since the opening-day 5-3 home victory over PDRM is starting to cause anxiety, and could chip away at the players' confidence if the streak continues.
"Team spirit is still good, but yes, there is a problem - we are not winning," he told The New Paper after yesterday's training session at the Geylang Field.
"We've won only once, and that's not good enough. It will play on the players' minds if this (streak) continues, but this team are mature, and they take it in their stride.
"We know we can do better, we know we can get the points. We drew at Felda but we know we could have won. It was the same at Perak."
The Singapore side can expect the Selangor test to be sterner than their previous away matches.
The Red Giants, coached by Australian Mehmet Durakovic, have earned 14 points from their seven games and are joint-MSL leaders with Felda and Terengganu.
Though they lost star man Paulo Rangel during pre-season, newcomers Guilherme and Leandro dos Santos have impressed, as well as local striker Afiq Azmi, the team's top scorer with four goals.
Fandi is optimistic, however, that his side - who drew 0-0 with Johor Darul Ta'zim last Saturday - can spring a surprise today.
"I think we can surprise them and get the win," he said.
"I have confidence in my boys. It's important though that they following instructions, be disciplined on and off the ball and, most importantly, focus.
"It's about time we got a win"
The coach's optimism is no doubt steered by the good news that star striker Khairul Amri will be fit to start after missing the Johor game through injury.
He is also counting on goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, who was brilliant last week, to shut the Selangor forwards out.
"Amri is an important player," Fandi added. "There's so much more to his game than just scoring goals.
"He can hold up play for us and tee up our wingers to create chances. We need smart play up front in order to get into good scoring positions, and Amri provides that.
"Izwan has been solid for us lately. Against Selangor, he can even help us out in attack.
"His distribution from goal-kicks is good and against Selangor, where they have a large field, that will come in handy.
"We have fast runners, so we need to concentrate on playing on the counter-attack game tomorrow. Selangor are a strong team, so we have to play our cards right."
Winger Gabriel Quak, one of the most improved players from last season, has called on his teammates to reproduce their FA Cup form in the MSL.
The LionsXII are enjoying a good cup run at the moment. They lead Johor Darul Ta'zim II 2-0 on aggregate after the quarter-final first leg, and are favourites for a place in the last four, where they will meet either Perak or Terengganu.
"The stats don't lie. We have to do better," said Quak, who has notched four goals in all competitions.
"The Cup has been a good journey for us, but we just haven't been able to translate that form to the league. We've put up some good fights, but a loss is still a loss.
"We are definitely not going for the draw. We want the win. We need to start building up that winning mentality in the league."
LIONSXII probable line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Zulfahmi Arifin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Raihan Rahman, Firdaus Kasman,
Teamwork, trust, table-toppers
A good part of the club's pre-season was about squabbling in the boardroom.
A reduced budget meant a few players faced uncertain futures, and star Brazilian striker Paulo Rangel left for Terengganu, and Malaysian internationals Farizal Marlias and S Kunanlan both signed for moneybags Johor Darul Ta'zim.
Left with a young squad and without any star names, Selangor, the traditional giants of Malaysian football, were tipped as a mid-table team by many.
Yet, seven rounds into the 2015 Malaysian Super League (MSL) season, the Red Giants sit atop of the standings, tied with two other teams on 14 points.
Four wins on the trot have seen confidence soar within the ranks and there was a spring in the step of the Selangor players yesterday at training ahead of their home clash with the LionsXII at the Shah Alam Stadium tonight.
Not before some of the team officials expressed some apprehension when The New Paper dropped in at the Padang SUK.
"From Singapore? No videos please," declared one assistant coach.
Later, however, head coach Mehmet Durakovic greeted this reporter with a smile and proceeded to talk about his side's unlikely rise to the top.
"We don't have superstars or any big-money players; not even one Malaysian international. But, I'll tell you, I wouldn't change this team for the world," said the Aussie, who captained Selangor from 1995 to 1997, when they won three successive Malaysia Cups.
"These guys train hard, give 100 per cent on the pitch, and we're all a family. That's all you can ask for as a coach."
On the team's good start, Durakovic, 49, said his team have thrived on teamwork and sharing the goalscoring burden.
"It's no more about relying just on Rangel. Now, everyone takes turns to score. We play with a bit more flair now," he said.
Durakovic's faith in youth and local players is paying off, at least so far.
Selangor are the only team in the MSL with a local striker leading the attack -Afiq Azmi, who in the previous two seasons was a squad player.
Operating as a lone striker in front of Brazilian attacking midfielders Guilherme and Leandro dos Santos, the 26-year-old Afiq, who stands at 1.89m, is the team's top scorer with four goals.
Indonesian winger Andik Vermansyah has three goals and the diminutive left winger - he is the shortest player in the MSL at 1.60m - will need to be watched closely by the LionsXII defence, not just for his blistering pace and mazy dribbles, but also his ability to get into scoring positions.
When told about the LionsXII's winless streak of six matches, Durakovic said: "Fandi (Ahmad) is doing a good job. The LionsXII have had a few draws they deserved to win, and also, they have played all the top sides so far.
"It's only a matter of time before they start winning again, but hopefully, not tonight."