Striker Sahil hoping to impress in first start for LionsXII
ROUND OF 16
LIONSXII v KL SPA PUTRAJAYA
(Tonight, 7.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 112)
He came off the bench for the LionsXII in their Malaysian FA Cup Round-of-32 clash with PB Melayu Kedah last month, scoring twice in a slick 4-0 victory.
On Thursday, he bagged Singapore's solitary goal in the Under-23 team's 3-1 loss to the Cambodia U-22s.
Young striker Sahil Suhaimi will get the chance to start for the first time this season for the 2013 Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions tonight, when the LionsXII meet Malaysian Premier League cellar-dwellers KL SPA Putrajaya in their Malaysian FA Cup Round-of-16 clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Lining up just off strike partner Khairul Amri in yesterday's training session at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio, the 22-year-old looked as lively as ever, thumping in goals at will as coach Fandi Ahmad looked on.
Speaking to The New Paper later, Sahil said: "All my appearances for the team this season have come off the bench and, although some people might be unhappy in such a situation, I respect the coach's decision because he knows what he's doing.
"It would be great for me, personally, to get on the scoresheet like I did in the previous round so that I can stake a claim for permanent inclusion in the first 11.
"But, right now, my mind is firmly on getting us into the quarter-finals."
A win tonight will set up a last-eight meeting with Johor Darul Ta'zim II next month, which means an emotional reunion with former LionsXII heroes Shahril Ishak and Baihakki Khaizan is on the cards.
Fandi is not taking anything for granted, though, even if the encounter looks like a mismatch on paper.
He will, however, be using tonight's game as an opportunity for some of the fringe players to get some valuable game time.
Captain Isa Halim, Faris Ramli, Izwan Mahbud and Nazrul Nazari are set to be rested as Fandi shifts from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 line-up.
Zulfahmi Arifin will keep his spot in the heart of defence, while Khairulhin Khalid takes his place between the sticks like he did in the previous round, along with a first start for winger Christopher van Huizen down the left flank.
"One important rule in football is to never take anything for granted," said Fandi, 52.
"I've already told my players to go out with all guns blazing. In the past few games, we've started slow, so we need to show that we've learnt from those lessons.
"It's all about grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck, press high, score early and dominate. It's a different set of players, but it's still the same team.
"That's how you win a football match."
Sahil agreed, saying: "We can't go into the match with the kind of mentality that says, 'You're from a lower division, you can't touch us'.
"That's the wrong approach. They beat Kuantan in the previous round, with their foreign striker (Nigerian import Michael Ijezie Chukwubunna) getting a hat-trick, so we have to be careful."
Unsurprisingly, Fandi is banking on Sahil - the man he described as his "trump card" - to deliver the goods.
"He is a player with enormous promise and hunger, and it will be a huge opportunity for him to show that from the get-go," said Fandi.
"Sahil is not a central striker, mind you. He plays a deeper role, feeding off space and, from what I've seen, both Amri and Sahil can do a job.
"That's the strategy that we're going for."