Fandi dedicates Cup win to late father and football fraternity
He credits his family for standing by him, praises players and backroom staff
REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR
(Wan Zack Haikal 62)
(Faris Ramli 7, Sahil Suhaimi 82, 90+2)
In the build-up to the Malaysian FA Cup final, he fasted on Mondays and Thursdays and, on Wednesday, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad went to the Muslim Cemetery to pay respects to his late father, former national goalkeeper Ahmad Wartam, who died last November.
"I want to dedicate this win to him because my family has played such a big role in my life, and I'm sad that he is not here today to savour this moment with me," said Fandi, who will turn 53 on Friday.
"They taught me to be humble. That is how I have pulled through all the tough times."
While he did not cry like he did after the semi-final win over Terengganu last week, Fandi was visibly emotional last night, and paid tribute to his family, who have stood by him through all his ups and downs as a football coach.
He told The New Paper: "This feels so sweet, because my mother (Semiah) Ismail, and my sons, Ilhan and Iryan, are here with me to celebrate this win.
"Together with the players, backroom staff and fans, we are all one big football family and I'm so happy we can experience this special moment together."
Twelve years after his last piece of silverware - the S.League title with SAFFC in 2002 - he has his first cup victory after the LionsXII beat Kelantan 3-1 in an exciting final at Bukit Jalil Stadium last night.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for Fandi ever since he hung up his boots and became SAFFC head coach in 2000.
There were the highs of winning the S.League twice with SAFFC, twice leading the Young Lions to third place in the league - their best finish - and helping Pelita Jaya win promotion to the top tier of Indonesian football.
But there were also the lows of failing in the Malaysian Super League with moneybags Johor Darul Ta'zim, and last season's eighth-placed finish with the LionsXII.
Fandi said: "This is all God's will. I lost the FA Cup to Kelantan with Johor Darul Ta'zim in 2013, but it is so satisfying to win with an all-local Singaporean team, upsetting the odds and proving critics wrong.
"Having my family here makes it all the more sweeter."
The win is also vindication of Fandi's coaching abilities, when at times he has been criticised for being too attack-minded.
However, throughout this fairy-tale FA Cup run, Fandi and his backroom staff got it right.
Despite not enjoying the bulk of possession, the LionsXII counter-attacked against superior teams with deadly effect, and scored a whopping 19 goals in seven games.
"We play attacking football, we score goals. We have strategies, the boys executed them to the best of their abilities," said Fandi, who slept just four hours a day over the last two weeks while plotting the final victory.
"We never gave up. I believe in my team, and they believe in me."
With typical modesty, he added: "Please, it's not about me. This is all about the boys, they were the ones who played their hearts out in training and in matches.
"They have proven they can do it. I just hope Singapore football can go on to greater heights from here."
Cup heroes Sahil and Faris target SEA Games next
DEADLY DUO: Sahil Suhaimi (above) and Faris Ramli (main picture) deliver for the LionsXII with well-taken goals.
SUPER SHOT: LionsXII substitute Sahil Suhaimi steals a loose ball, dribbles on and plants a shot beyond Khairul Fahmi. TNP GRAPHIC: BILLY KER
"I’m very proud of Sahil (Suhaimi) and Faris (Ramli) — our two scorers — who are playing in the SEA Games. Hopefully, this win will get more fans to watch the boys at the SEA Games because that’s what we want, to have a stadium full of supporters. We feel positive (for the SEA Games) and hope the fans feel positive too."
- Zainudin Nordin, president of the Football Association of Singapore
For so long, they have had to endure harsh criticisms about the Singapore Under-23s' recent run of poor results.
No guts, no gumption, no verve, no victory.
But, by scoring the goals that helped the LionsXII beat Kelantan 3-1 and become the first foreign team to win the Malaysian FA Cup at the Bukit Jalil Stadium last night, Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi have restored pride, belief and confidence that the Young Lions may be able to do something special again at next month's South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
Sahil said: "Regardless of what the haters say, I just love to prove them wrong.
"Words cannot describe the feelings of scoring the match-winning goals in my first cup final. I hope this is the first of more to come.
"But this big victory is not just about me. It's about the hard work of all the coaches, backroom staff and players in the LionsXII team.
"We have faced so many obstacles, but we have pulled through and delivered."
Restored to the LionsXII side after they had joined the national U-23s for a training tour in Japan last week, the pair of 22-year-olds destroyed the Red Warriors with the crucial goals.
As early as the seventh minute, Faris latched on to a peach of a through-ball by Izzdin Shafiq, rounded Kelantan goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and slotted into the corner for the opener.
Despite Wan Zack Haikal's 62nd-minute equaliser, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad still had a trump card in Sahil, whom he brought on in place of Khairul Nizam in the 58th minute.
Oh, and what a tremendous impact he made.
First, in the 82nd minute, Sahil picked Nik Shahrul Azim's pocket, charged into Kelantan's half before planting a low shot into the corner beyond Khairul Fahmi.
He wasn't done tormenting the opponents yet, and another direct run lured Amiridzwan Taj Tajuddin to bring him down in the penalty box in added time, before he neatly tucked in the resulting spot-kick.
"This is just the first step we have taken to restore pride and confidence in Singapore football," said Faris.
"We know we still have a long way to go, and we will work our hardest to build on this win and try to create another slice of history by winning the SEA Games football gold.
"We want to thank the thousands of fans who believed in us and come all the way to Bukit Jalil to support us.
"We hope that more will support the national teams in the future because we really feel their encouragement and we need it."