LionsXII striker Amri hoping for perfect birthday
LIONSXII v TERENGGANU
(Tonight, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112/205/76.35MHz)
He is the team's main striker, the one carrying the biggest goalscoring load, but things haven't quite clicked for LionsXII striker Khairul Amri so far this year.
After four games of this season's Malaysian Super League (MSL), the national striker has just a single goal to his name, even if it was a beauty of a strike in the 2-2 draw away at Perak three weeks ago.
Ahead of his team's clash with Terengganu at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight, Amri is hardly worried.
Sipping a cup of tea before the team's training session at the ITE College Central yesterday, Amri told The New Paper: "It's only a matter of time before the goals start coming.
"Strikers sometimes go through periods where they don't score many, so it's not a problem for me.
"It's not something I worry about, unless the team are not doing well, of course."
Fandi Ahmad's men are ninth in the 12-team MSL, but the gap between first to 10th is just three points.
That means that a handsome win for the LionsXII tonight could even launch them right to the top of the table if other results go their way.
The Singapore side thumped PDRM in their opening game at home, and they've picked up two draws against Perak and Felda United, after losing to Kelantan, in their three successive matches on the road.
While Amri insists he is not worried about his own output, he admits he badly wants to find the net tonight - to celebrate turning 30.
"How I wish I could score tomorrow on my birthday," he said, with grin.
"Actually, I don't even need to score. As long as we work together as a team and take the three points, that will be good enough.
"That would make the best present."
Fandi, who knows a thing or two about sticking the ball in the net, shrugged aside any worries over the lack of goals from Amri, who top-scored last year for the team with seven MSL goals.
"Amri has been playing well, no problem," said the coach.
"But he needs more support from the attacking midfielder.
"That player, whoever I pick, needs to get close to him quicker so Amri's not always isolated."
Fandi says he has been resisting the temptation of teaming Amri up with up-and-coming striker Sahil Suhaimi - who scored 10 goals in the S.League last year and already has three goals off the bench for the LionsXII this season - from the start, in favour of stability.
"Sahil is our trump card," said Fandi.
"He can come in anytime, and at the moment, I think it's better for him to watch the game and come on to try make a difference.
"The first thing we need to do in games is to be compact in the centre."
"It's a little risky to start with two strikers," he said.
"We need to be smart and work as a unit. In the second half, when the opponents are tiring, we can send another striker on. It has paid off for us so far."
Fandi called on his team to go for the jugular tonight, noting that encouraging performances count for nothing if the results don't follow.
He is wary of the threat Terengganu and their star striker Paulo Rangel - the Brazilian leads the MSL scoring charts with five goals from four games - pose.
"Terengganu are a good team with experienced locals and very good foreign players," said Fandi.
"We've got to kill the supply to Rangel and stop Gustavo (Lopez) and Ashaari (Shamsuddin).
"When we lose the ball, we have to be compact. And when we break forward, we break in numbers.
"Kill the space, stop the movement, and don't give Rangel a yard in the box because he's very clinical."
"There's a good mood around the team, we have momentum.
"Here and there, people have been saying we have played well," he added.
"But we need the points. And we're confident we can get them."
LIONSXII PROBABLE LINE-UP:
- Izwan Mahbud, Wahyudi Wahid, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Izzdin Shafiq, Isa Halim, Firdaus Kasman, Gabriel Quak, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri.
LionsXII must be wary of Terengganu terror Rangel
TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA
In the last two seasons, he has forged a reputation as arguably the most fearsome foreign striker prowling the Malaysian Super League (MSL).
Yet, Paulo Rangel (right) has scored only once in five appearances against the LionsXII.
The 30-year-old Brazilian - the MSL's top-scorer last term with 16 goals for former team Selangor - wants to change that statistic when his Terengganu side take to the Jalan Besar Stadium field tonight.
He already gave the Singapore side a taste of what they might expect tonight, when he bagged a hat-trick in the Turtles' 3-1 win over Fandi Ahmad's men in a pre-season friendly in January.
And he has already hit the ground running this season, with five goals in just four games.
"Do I think I can score tomorrow? Yes, because I believe I can score in every game I play in," he told The New Paper, before his team's training session at Jalan Besar yesterday.
"To me, it's not a surprise I've already scored five goals, because Terengganu are a good team with many good local players. And if you have quality players supporting each other, it makes things easier."
He insisted, however, that the Malaysian east coast outfit, who are fourth in the table, are not underestimating their opponents.
"Playing LionsXII at home is never easy," he said. "We have worked very hard as a team, and we must make sure we continue to do so tomorrow, if we hope to get a good result."
Terengganu coach Abdul Rahman backed Rangel, who has scored two goals apiece in the team's last two games, to get on the scoresheet again.
"I have confidence in Rangel, as well as Gustavo (Lopez)," said the 68-year-old former Malaysian national coach. "In these two players, we have the capability to hurt the LionsXII.
"Our imports have made the difference for us this season, they've made a big impact."
Abdul Rahman, who took over the reins at Terengganu last year, could well be the most successful coach against the LionsXII. He has a record of five wins and a draw from nine games against them, although seven of those matches were when he was in charge of PKNS.
But, he is playing the underdog card ahead of tonight's game.
"In all four of our games so far, we've scored, but we've also conceded every time. And in our only away game so far, we lost 3-1 to Sarawak.
"I don't really know what to expect from this LionsXII team, but one thing I know for sure is they will go all out for the win on home ground.
"We need to adapt to the artificial pitch quickly, and be organised when we don't have the ball. Our players will need to step up."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ