LionsXII captain Isa eyes road to redemption
It was a tough 2014 for the LionsXII and their captain Isa Halim.
Fandi Ahmad's charges had entered last season as champions of the Malaysian Super League (MSL), only to finish a lowly eighth out of 10 teams at the end of the campaign.
Skipper Isa struggled with injuries and missed the bulk of the season before he was dropped from Singapore's AFF Suzuki Cup squad.
As the LionsXII ushered in the new year yesterday with the release of the MSL fixtures for this season, the 28-year-old midfield hardman is eager to erase the bad memories as quickly as he can.
"I had a terrible year last time out. I had two good seasons previously, but last year was just horrible," said Isa.
"I can talk for hours about how injuries hampered me all season, but there's no point in all that.
"I'm not the only one who had a bad year. It truly was a difficult year for Singapore football.
"It's time to let our feet do the talking."
Isa and Co can start charting their path to redemption.
The MSL fixtures list released yesterday, subject to changes, gives them a rough guide of what to expect in the opening weeks. The LionsXII are scheduled to open their campaign at home, against Premier League champions PDRM FA on Feb 7.
Following that, they will attempt to break their Kota Baru hoodoo against Kelantan on Feb 14, before rounding up the month against Perak at Jalan Besar Stadium exactly a week later.
But the new year also presents fresh challenges. For the upcoming season, the Malaysian sides are allowed to field four foreign imports, while the LionsXII squad consist of only Singaporeans.
The team's top signing Shahdan Sulaiman is also still recovering from a broken leg, which he sustained while on Suzuki Cup duty with the national team.
On top of that, several players, such as Khairulhin Khalid, Faritz Abdul Hameed, Gabriel Quak and Afiq Yunos, are carrying niggling injuries.
However, coach Fandi is hopeful that they can improve on last season's performances and break into the top half.
He said: "Definitely, we want to finish better than last season, and the key to that is to do better at home.
"We won just four out of 11 home games last season and dropped too many points.
"We will get the chance to change that immediately with our first game, so it's very important to beat PDRM at home and start the season confidently."
In an interesting twist, both LionsXII and PDRM will be able to size up each other in a friendly quadrangular in the Maldives from Jan 21 to 28. The LionsXII's subsequent warm-up game is an away clash with Terengganu next Friday.
As preparations for the new campaign gain momentum, Fandi has one wish for the new year: "We have a rather thin squad, so my biggest wish is we stay injury free, especially in the crucial last month of the season when we play eight games in August."
- Additional reporting by DAVID LEE
Izwan Mahbud, Khairulhin Khaild, Zharfan Rohaizad
Faritz Abdul Hameed, Madhu Mohana, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Wahyudi Wahid, Faris Azienuddin, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Zakir Samsudin
Isa Halim, Izzdin Shafiq, Raihan Rahman, Firdaus Kasman, Zulfahmi Arifin, Shahdan Sulaiman, Faris Ramli, Gabriel Quak, Nazrul Ahmad Nazari, Christopher van Huizen, Samuel Benjamin
Khairul Amri, Khairul Nizam, Sufian Anuar, Syafiq Zainal, Sahil Suhaimi.
LIONSXII'S FIRST 10 FIXTURES
- Feb 7: v PDRM (home)
- Feb 14: v Kelantan (away)
- Feb 21: v Perak (home)
- March 7: v Felda United (away)
- March 14: v Terengganu (home)
- April 11: v Pahang (away)
- April 18: v JDT (home)
- May 2: v Selangor (away)
- June 3: v Sarawak (home)
- June 6: v Sime Darby