I want fighters
Fandi set to field ball-winners in midfield against arch-rivals
REPORTING FROM SHAH ALAM
SELANGOR v LIONSXII
(Tonight, 8.30pm, StarHub TV Ch 201, 255 & 76.25Mhz)
In one of the most memorable scenes in Stanley Kubrick's searing war film Full Metal Jacket, snarling drill sergeant R Lee Ermey barks at one of his recruits, demanding: "Let me see your war face!"
Not sure how to react, the recruit stutters and stumbles at first. Eventually, though, he goes on to ace the boot camp.
Ahead of his side's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash against Selangor, LionsXII coach Fandi Ahmad is hoping his charges respond the same way to his own battle cry.
The 51-year-old coach might as well have been in military garb as he explained why he is set to start combative duo Raihan Rahman and Aqhari Abdullah alongside team skipper Safuwan Baharudin - a centre-back by trade - in the centre of the midfield at Shah Alam tonight.
"They (1.70m-tall Aqhari and 1.65m-tall Raihan) are small, but they close down people very quickly," said Fandi.
"We need their energy and aggression. That's what I want. Fighters, ball-winners.
"At certain times, we can turn to more technical ball players. But it's impossible to play pretty all the way.
"We need to press, double-team, triple-team opponents, like we did against Pahang (on Tuesday).
"I'm confident the two of them and Safuwan can do the dirty job in front of the defence."
The champions are on a high after beating MSL table-toppers Pahang 4-1 at the Jalan Besar Stadium earlier in the week.
MORE OF THE SAME
Striker Sufian Anuar, who scored a hat-trick within 15 minutes after coming on as a substitute, is set to be rewarded with a place in the starting line-up, with regular frontman Khairul Amri starting out wide.
In what has been a topsy-turvy season for the champions, Fandi said the emphatic win over last year's Malaysia Cup champions was a welcome reminder that his players have what it takes to retain the MSL title.
Before beating Pahang, the LionsXII lost 1-0 at home to the unfancied Sime Darby.
Said Fandi: "The boys responded very well (against Pahang) and I want more of the same from them when we play Selangor.
"Mentally, maybe sometimes they need to be stronger. But they must believe.
"The Pahang result showed them they can compete with the best in the MSL."
Aqhari, who came on as a substitute against Pahang but has yet to start in the MSL this season, is fired up to prove he can do what is required of him.
He said: "I'm quite surprised that I might start against Selangor, but I started in the same game last year for (then LionsXII coach) Sundram, so I know what to expect in Shah Alam.
"I remember being so tired because we ran and ran the whole game, and ended up with a hard-fought 0-0 draw.
"Tomorrow, I just want to go all out. Fandi has given me the opportunity and I hope to repay him."
- LionsXII probable Starting 11: Izwan Mahbud, Madhu Mohana, Afiq Yunos, Shakir Hamzah, Hafiz Abu Sujad, Raihan Rahman, Aqhari Abdullah, Safuwan Baharudin, Faris Ramli, Khairul Amri, Sufian Anuar
- Johor DT 2 T-Team 1
- Kelantan 0 Sarawak 1
- ATM v PKNS
- Pahang v Sime Darby
- Terengganu v Perak
A physical test for Selangor
His players may be dead tired, but he believes they'll still run themselves into the ground for a win.
That's the warning Selangor coach Mehmet Durakovic issued to the LionsXII ahead of tonight's Malaysian Super League (MSL) clash at the Shah Alam Stadium.
The Red Giants went down 1-0 away at Indonesian side Arema Cronus in the AFC Cup on Tuesday - their 11th match in 36 days - and returned to Malaysia only late on Thursday night.
Because of his team's hectic schedule, Durakovic allowed his men to take a breather during yesterday's training session.
The players who played against Arema merely jogged and juggled the ball, while those who didn't taste action had a small-sided game.
With a sigh, the Australian coach told The New Paper: "We just returned last night. We had a long bus ride to the airport before we could fly. Which team would consider this ideal?
"We've played 11 games in one month, which is unbelievable.
"We've gone to the Maldives, back home, to Vietnam, back home, to Sarawak, back home, to Indonesia and now we're back again.
"To make it even more difficult, we've had to play with 10 men in our last two games because of red cards, so the players are dead tired."
Worse for Durakovic, he will have key central midfielder K Gurusamy out injured, and Brazilian defender Evaldo suspended.
The pint-sized Indonesian forward Andik Vermansyah is also a doubt with an ankle injury.
Lest one thinks the former Melbourne Victory coach is already making excuses in case his side falter tonight, he insisted they are targeting nothing less than maximum points against a resurgent LionsXII team that beat MSL table-toppers Pahang 4-1 on Tuesday.
While he praised Fandi and his "fantastic young players", Durakovic said: "I'm very confident in my players. We haven't got a big squad or a superstar team, but, like the LionsXII, we have boys who will run all day and never give up."
Despite their fixture pile-up, Selangor have done well in recent games.
Before the loss to Arema, they were unbeaten in seven games, with five wins.
They are second in the table and a win tonight could see them go top, although another defeat - they lost 2-1 at Jalan Besar in January - will see the LionsXII leapfrog them.
Key for the team has been the strike partnership of Brazilian hitman Paulo Rangel and Malaysian youngster Thamil Arasu.
While all eyes will be on the 10-goal Rangel, 22-year-old Thamil has quietly impressed as the South American's foil.
Thamil, who played for Harimau Muda in the S.League in 2012, said: "I'm just happy to get a chance to play with experienced players here.
"It's good to have a great player like Paulo as a partner, and I just want to learn as much as I can from him.
"If I can score a few goals along the way, it will be a bonus."
- SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
I’m very confident in my players. We haven’t got a big squad or a superstar team, but, like the LionsXII, we have boys who will run all day and never give up.
— Selangor coach Mehmet Durakovic