NO LOOKING BACK
REPORTING FROM SELAYANG
ATM v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 201 & 255)
His coach says it is touch and go if he is able to start the match, but, either way, the LionsXII are not losing sleep over the availability of ATM FA's star hitman Marlon James for their Malaysia Super League (MSL) encounter tonight at the Selayang Stadium.
The 1.87m-tall St Vincent and Grenadines forward is nursing a calf strain and is rated as "50-50" by ATM coach B Sathianathan to make the first 11.
Reigning MSL top-scorer James, 37, has missed the last two matches after scoring in their 2-0 win over Sarawak in their season-opener.
He told The New Paper yesterday: "I always enjoy playing against the LionsXII, and we'll see how it goes, but my calf is getting better.
"I'll probably have a late fitness test just before the match tomorrow to see if I can play."
James has scored five times against the MSL champions over the last three seasons and centre back Safuwan Baharudin, who has had to grapple with the forward over the years, said yesterday: "You can't deny he's one of the top strikers in the MSL.
"I read in the news that he's carrying an injury, but it could just be one of coach Sathia's mind games.
"Anyway, we have no fear. In training, we have not talked about looking out for any particular opponent, except during set-pieces, which is normal.
ALL FOR ONE
"We'll just go out and play our normal game and try to stop whoever we come up against, as a unit."
Left back Shakir Hamzah claimed the LionsXII players have not even mentioned James during training sessions or in the dressing room.
"So far, we have never found ourselves in a situation where we worry about one player before any game," said the 21-year-old.
"Anyway, they have quality all over the pitch and we have to make sure we keep an eye on the whole team."
Fandi Ahmad may have taken over the reins last December, but the LionsXII coach knows all about James' prowess in front of goal.
The striker scored both goals when ATM beat Fandi's Johor Darul Ta'zim outfit 2-0 in the MSL last May.
"We need to close him down quickly and deny him space," said the former Singapore skipper.
"And we need everyone to do it, not just the two centre backs.
"I don't want to assign someone to man-mark James, because it may become a burden and he (the defender) cannot play his normal game.
"We just need people around him."
"There's also the supply line of their wingers, Christie (Jayaseelan) and Venice (Elphi), who we have to close down," added Fandi. "Those two we have to stop, by hook or by crook."
But, far from adopting a defensive style, Fandi will stick to his philosophy of attack as the best form of defence.
He is set to start with three forwards, with natural striker Sufian Anuar taking up a right-wing role.
When asked about his adventurous line-up, Fandi simply smirked and said: "Well, it's either we hit them, or be hit.
"I know what I want my team to be doing."
l Probable LionsXII line-up: Izwan Mahbud, Faritz Hameed, Safuwan Baharudin, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Isa Halim, Firdaus Kasman, Sufian Anuar, Shahfiq Ghani, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Khairul Amri
l Johor Darul Ta'zim v Selangor
l Kelantan v T-Team
l Sarawak v Perak
l Terengganu v Pahang
l PKNS 0 Sime Darby 0
M'SIAN SUPER LEAGUE M'SIAN SUPER LEAGUE