Johor Darul Ta'zim II hopeful of beating LionsXII
Johor Darul Ta'zim II have been in good form on their travels in the Malaysia Cup, and coach Nenad Bacina says they will be full of confidence when they make the short journey across the Causeway to face Fandi Ahmad's men in their Malaysia Cup Group A clash at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
The Southern Tigers, who finished fifth in the 12-team second-tier Malaysian Premier League (MPL), kicked off their Malaysia Cup campaign on Sept 12 with an impressive 0-0 away at Group A's seeded team, Terengganu.
After an injury-time 2-1 loss to the LionsXII at their Pasir Gudang Stadium home a week later, they travelled north again to beat MPL champions Kedah 3-2 in front of 30,000 hostile fans.
Croatia's Bacina, who took over the reins from compatriot Goran Paulic in May, said: "We have carried a fighting spirit and high morale from our run in the MPL, where we won seven of 12 games (since he took over).
"From day one, all I wanted was for my players to be confident and believe in themselves and their own quality.
"There is no doubt we are still underdogs in Group A because we are a young team, but we are very confident.
"Yes, the LionsXII beat us at Pasir Gudang in injury time, but that has not affected our confidence."
Apart from their imports - 26-year-old Argentinian Nicolas Delmonte and Singapore internationals Baihakki Khaizan and Shahril Ishak, both 31 - Bacina's squad are mostly made up of young Malaysian players.
But Bacina has reason to be hopeful.
The LionsXII have not been convincing on home turf in the Malaysia Cup, after a 1-1 with Kedah on Sept 12, and a scrappy 3-2 win over Terengganu on Sept 26, following some uncharacteristic lapses in defence.
Worse for the Singapore outfit, their No.1 striker, Khairul Amri, will miss tonight's clash with a hamstring injury picked up on international duty.
Bacina, 44, starred at centre-back for an SAFFC (now known as Warriors FC) team coached by Fandi that dominated the S.League in the early 2000s.
He decided not to train on the Jalan Besar surface ahead of the clash.
Instead, JDT II have been working at Pasir Gudang, on natural grass and only arrived in Singapore last night after a final training session in Johor.
Bacina, who also coached S.League sides Tampines Rovers, Woodlands Wellington and Hougang United in recent years, said: "My experience from coaching in the S.League tells me there's no point to have just one training session on the artificial pitch.
"A one-hour session makes no difference.
"In fact, it may have a worse effect because it can cause some stiff muscles to suddenly train on an artificial pitch.
"So, by focusing on ourselves and training at our own home, we are coming fresh.
"Anyway, it is all in the players' heads. And I believe my players are ready."