Fandi to LionsXII: Let's not stop at two
Mindful of what awaits in the second leg, Fandi wants a handsome cushion tonight
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
LIONSXII v TERENGGANU
(Tonight, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205 & 76.25MHz)
While they lifted the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title in 2013, the LionsXII have yet to appear in a cup final since their return to Malaysian domestic football in 2012.
While the MSL crown is the biggest prize, the magic of a cup final, with the intense build-up to the big day and the atmosphere generated in the stands, is a unique experience footballers are desperate to taste.
Tantalisingly close this season, coach Fandi Ahmad has called for nothing less than total commitment from his charges, ahead of tonight's Malaysian FA Cup semi-final, first-leg encounter against Terengganu at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
With national Under-23 players Faris Ramli, Sahil Suhaimi, Christopher van Huizen and Zakir Samsudin joining the centralised training of the South-east Asia (SEA) Games squad after tonight's game, and unavailable for next week's away leg, getting goals and posting a handsome win at home are crucial to their dreams of silverware.
"We will definitely start with an attacking line-up, and I don't think even 2-0 is a secure target. We'll try to score more goals and not concede any," said Fandi yesterday.
"(For that), we'll need 11 fit players and players on the bench, all going out to give 200 per cent.
"If anyone does not perform, we will destroy ourselves."
In 2012, the LionsXII were booted out in the quarter-finals of the Cup by Terengganu.
They went even closer in the Malaysia Cup, agonisingly losing to ATM FA in the semi-finals on penalty kicks.
Dedication is the key factor that Fandi believes will give his men the edge.
"When I was a player, I polished my (leather) boots before every game because they helped me score goals, and polishing them gave me more confidence," he said.
"While the boots are different today, the idea is the same - the players need to do everything to be confident.
"They need to eat right, sleep early, no late-night eating - be professional.
"As coaches, we can give feedback, tell them what they have to do and all, but that mental strength comes from inside, from themselves - that is what I want to see."
One factor that the LionsXII already have going for them is spirit.
They came from behind to beat Sime Darby 2-1 in the league last weekend with two central midfielders deputising in defence, and Fandi believes that bodes well.
"The dressing room is fantastic, it's a family now," said the coach.
"The players are kicking each other in training, but that's a sign of just how competitive it is.
"It's clear that we are happy together, and everyone who plays gives his best, even the boys who have had to play out of positions."
Fielding players out of position may not be necessary because central defender Madhu Mohana is back from suspension, while utility star Safuwan Baharudin could also figure.
Safuwan was deemed unfit to play against Sime Darby, and Fandi is crossing his fingers that the former Melbourne City player will be cleared to play, in what will be a huge boost for the team.
Despite the upbeat mood and a clear intent to attack, Fandi knows he cannot throw caution to the wind.
"This is a very crucial game, and Terengganu are a strong team, with good technical players and strong firepower," he said.
"But we'll stick to our plan, we will be cautious although we like to attack when we are at home, and we will try to stop them from scoring.
"We'll be compact in defence and make sure that when we attack, we finish it with a shot on goal.
"Teamwork will be very important for us, and (that includes) the help of the 12th man - the fans."
LionsXII probable line-up:
- Izwan Mahbud, Nazrul Nazari, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Gabriel Quak, Izzdin Shafiq, Safuwan Bahardin, Faris Ramli, Khairul Nizam, Khairul Amri.
- Pahang v Kelantan
"We’ll be compact in defence and make sure that when we attack, we finish it with a shot on goal."
- LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad on tonight’s match
Rangel's absence a huge blow for turtles
In Malaysian football circles, he is known as the Power Ranger, and for good reason.
Like the fictional superheroes, Paulo Rangel seems to be blessed with just a little extra everything.
His ultimate weapon is the uncanny ability to sniff out a goal.
Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim knows the Brazilian will be missed tonight, and says his suspension has changed the whole dynamic of their Malaysian FA Cup semi-final, first-leg encounter against the LionsXII.
Speaking to The New Paper on the sidelines of the team's training session at Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday, Abdul Rahman said: "Of course his absence will have a big impact, that's for sure. He's a key player for us, and this will be the first time that he will miss a game since joining us.
"Even though we have replacements, it won't be the same."
Last year, Rangel was the Malaysian Super League top scorer with 16 goals for Selangor and has notched up five for his new club this season.
Abdul Rahman will look to new additions, Malaysian international Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and former Albirex Niigata forward Issey Nakajima-Farran, to fill the void.
"We want to attack but, without Paulo, we have to play a different brand of football. I hope Issey and 'Mat Yo' (Norshahrul) play better than they have in the last few games, and give us options when we have the ball," said the coach.
Both Norshahrul and Nakajima-Farran have tasted some action the last four Terengganu fixtures since they signed last month.
While they have added depth to his attack, Abdul Rahman believes the duo have yet to hit top form.
Nakajima-Farran spent the hour's training yesterday jogging and stretching and his only involvement with the ball was casual juggling. He left in a car before the rest of the squad boarded the team bus.
Terengganu have endured a poor run of form, losing their last three games in the MSL.
They are seventh in the league, one spot and a point above the LionsXII.
The Singapore side, in contrast, are in confident mood, coming off two successive wins.
With or without Rangel, Abdul Rahman is determined to ruin the LionsXII's hopes of a first appearance in a cup final even before the tie returns to Kuala Terengganu.
"The LionsXII are playing at home and they've got to win at all cost. They want it badly. The question is whether our players have it in them to stop them," said the former Perak coach.
"We must score a goal, simply because an away goal will change the look of everything. The LionsXII will be fired up and, if we don't score, it will make things very difficult for us."
He believes the first 15 minutes will be critical, as his players look to get used to the plastic playing surface at Jalan Besar.
"The pitch is still a factor and, on this surface, we won't be able to play a high-tempo game, so we'll just have to react to what the LionsXII do," he said.
"One thing's for sure, we can't just defend for 90 minutes.
"We must play our normal game, with more tactical discipline - and we must score."