Nazri's tough words for midfielders
As a former midfield general, it must be hard for LionsXII assistant coach Nazri Nasir to watch the team's central midfielders struggle to make an impact this year.
In his heyday in the 90s, former national captain Nazri was known not just as a combative midfielder who broke up attacks.
He also contributed vital assists for both club and country.
After a poor defence of their Malaysian Super League crown, the LionsXII have continued to struggle in this season's Malaysia Cup. Nazri has urged his midfielders to be more adventurous and asked them to trust their creative instincts, ahead of tonight's crucial Group A match against Johor Darul Ta'zim II at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, the 43-year-old said: "A central midfielder's job is not just shielding and sitting. There's also initiative, reading, communication through words or eye contact and quick thinking. There are both technical and tactical components.
"We defend well. But, in attack, we need players who dare to take the calculated risk in the opponents' half, and to take shots from outside the box.
"We need our midfielders to support our striker, anticipate something to happen, go for the second ball, which I don't see much of."
Captain Isa Halim has been substituted three out of four times since coming back from a heel injury.
Zulfahmi Arifin has bags of talent and a cultured left foot, but he hasn't been consistent in the engine room.
"Isa is not 100 per cent fit and sometimes he's subbed out for tactical reasons because we need to get forward more," explained Nazri.
"As for Zul, it's not enough just to give the diagonal ball. I keep telling him he has a good shot but he's not creating enough space to shoot."
With the team anchored to the bottom with just one point from three games, coach Fandi Ahmad has said that the LionsXII face three finals in their remaining group games, starting tonight against JDT II, followed by their visits to Pahang and Felda United.
The goal remains a place in the top two and a spot in the last eight, and Nazri said: "We owe it to our fans. I tell the boys and they know the level JDT II play at, and I ask them whether they have given enough.
"This is their livelihood, they have to believe in themselves. We give them everything they need in training and support. It's up to them now."
- DAVID LEE