LionsXII deliver perfect birthday gift for S'pore
Fandi's boys end leaders Pahang's unbeaten run of 12 matches
(Faris Ramli 18, 60, Madhu Mohana 30, Safuwan Baharudin 85)
(Matias Conti 43, R Surendran 92)
What a way to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday.
Just hours before the nation celebrated its Golden Jubilee, the LionsXII outclassed Malaysian Super League (MSL) leaders Pahang 4-2 at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Few would have expected the result, considering Pahang were unbeaten in 12 MSL matches prior to last night.
Fandi Ahmad's charges were good value for the win, too.
Calling the performance his team's best this season, the local icon could not decide on who his Man of the Match was.
Defender-turned-attacking midfielder Safuwan Baharudin, winger Nazrul Nazari, centre backs Madhu Mohana and Shakir Hamzah, two-goal hero Faris Ramli... all of them got mentions from their coach.
"The fans who turned up deserved this, the team deserved this, Singapore deserved this," said Fandi.
"It's a special occasion for us tomorrow... from the FAS and the LionsXII, we wish Singapore a happy 50th birthday."
TNP's vote goes to Faris, simply for the impact his strikes had.
He opened the scoring after 18 minutes, stealing ahead of his marker and sliding the ball under Pahang's Malaysian international goalkeeper Khairul Azhan Khalid.
Madhu added a second when he scored for the second week running, timing his run to perfection and heading Zulfahmi Arifin's corner home on the half-hour mark.
Pahang's Argentinian striker Matias Conti threatened to play party pooper, pulling a goal back two minutes before the break.
But Faris restored the LionsXII's two-goal advantage in the 60th minute with a shot from outside the area, which took a nick off a Pahang boot and nestled in Khairul Azhan's net.
Safuwan made sure of the win five minutes before the end with a thumping strike, after the ball kindly fell to his feet at a corner-kick.
R Surendran added a second for Pahang in injury time, but it was too little, too late for the Tok Gajah.
Faris, who missed the LionsXII's last game through injury, said: "To come back from injury and help score two goals against the league leaders to help give Singapore an early birthday present is like a dream.
"I think I can speak on behalf of the players when I say we are happy to give our fellow Singaporeans another reason to smile ahead of National Day."
Pahang coach Zainal Abidin Hassan rued his team's display.
"I'm disappointed with our performance," said the former Malaysia striker, who partnered Fandi while playing for Pahang in the 1980s.
"Too many of our players were off form tonight, and we needed them to be at their best against a very hungry LionsXII team."
LIONSXII: Izwan Mahbud 7.5, Faritz Hameed 7, Madhu Mohana 8.5, Shakir Hamzah 7.5, Hafiz Abu Sujad 7, Izzdin Shafiq 7, Zulfahmi Arifin 8 (Firdaus Kasman 89), Nazrul Nazari 8.5, Safuwan Baharudin 8.5, Faris Ramli 8.5 (Christopher van Huizen 84), Khairul Nizam 6.5 (Sahil Suhaimi 58, 7)
PAHANG: Khairul Azhan, Matthew Davies, Razman Roslan, Damion Stewart, Saiful Miswan, Fauzi Roslan (R Surendran 64), Hafiz Kamal, Zesh Rehman, R Gopinathan (Rizua Shafiqi 70), Matias Conti, Dickson Nwakaeme
- Attendance: 5,250
- Referee: Syed Ahar Syed Kamar 4/10
Match rating: 9/10
TNP MAN OF THE MATCH
Winger Faris (above) gets the nod for inspiring the win with two goals, but there was little to separate him from teammates Madhu, Nazrul and Safuwan, who all had excellent games as well.